An Eastern Orthodox View of Calvinism

The Orthodox concept of synergism, far from being a departure from Apostolic Faith, is attested to in Scripture and repeated throughout the centuries. “It is for God to grant His grace,” said St. Cyril of Jerusalem; “your task is to accept that grace and to guard it”. St. John Chrysostom exclaims, “All depends indeed on God, but not so that our free-will is hindered. [God] does not anticipate our choice, lest our free-will be outraged. But when we have chosen, then great is the assistance He brings to us.” St. Augustine himself witnesses to a synergism between God and Man, as Thomas Oden explains: “Though not the first, Augustine was the most brilliant exponent of how the action of grace can be both ‘from the will of man and from the mercy of God.’ Thus we accept the dictum, ‘It is not a matter of human willing or running but of God’s showing mercy,’ as if it meant, ‘The will of man is not sufficient by itself unless there is also the mercy of God.’ But by the same token the mercy of God is not sufficient by itself unless there is also the will of man.” Commenting on Romans 9:16, St. Augustine states that “If any man is of the age to use his reason, he cannot believe, hope, love, unless he will to do so, nor obtain the prize of the high calling of God unless he voluntarily run for it.” Finally, Oden notes “That the synergy of grace and freedom became the consensual teaching of the believing church is clear from the Third Ecumenical Council, held in Ephesus in A.D. 431: ‘For He acts in us that we may both will and do what He wishes, nor does He allow those gifts to be idle in us which He has given to be used and not to be neglected, that we also may be cooperators with the grace of God’”.

The Orthodox doctrine of synergy came to its fullest and most refined articulation with the Sixth Œcumenical Synod (680-681). This Synod declared that Christ has both a divine and a human will, and that these two wills co-operated synergistically. This has tremendous ramifications for Christian anthropology. Those who have been organically united to Christ in Holy Baptism (Gal. 3:27) have the Spirit of God living in them; and this Spirit quickens our soul and makes it alive unto God. Our own will then freely co-operates with this newly given Divine Energy which is ever renewed in us through ascetic struggle and participation in the Mystery of His Body and Blood. Thus, the Œcumenical Synods that defined and refined the doctrine of the Person of Christ set forth that, for us who are made in His image, it is not only God’s will that is operative in us (this would be a monoenergistic anthropology – one held by many Reformed Protestants), nor is it our own will working apart from God (this would be Pelagianism), but rather it is the two working together in harmony, neither overwhelming the other (cf. Phil. 2:13-14).” Carmen Fragapane, Salvation by Christ


Total Depravity


Unconditional Election


Limited Atonement


Irresistable Grace 


Perserverance of the Saints 


On Predestination


  1. As a Presbyterian interested in Orthodoxy, I find much to ponder on this site. But so far, I don’t think Orthodoxy properly understands our view of the workings of Sovereign (and electing) Grace.

    Calvinists don’t believe that our sovereign LORD forces unwilling sinners into his Kingdom against their will. How can He? A corpse cannot lift his/her hand to accept any drink of water, however life-giving. Before the Holy Spirit touches our souls, there can be no response to any offer of the Good News since we’re all spiritually dead. Further, unbelievers don’t want God and actively fight against His kingdom with all their might. (Witness today’s thoroughly hedonistic secular culture.) God’s electing love is all graciousness, gentleness and the kindest of mercy. Our only appropriate response is to accept God’s truth with joy and serve Him with gladness all the days of our eternal life!

    Blessings to all who venture here.

  2. Greetings John!

    I hope you find a lot on the site to ponder and reflect upon. You have a few presuppositions in your comments that do not reflect patristic anthropology. Please read “On Depraved Nature” to view how the Fathers of the Church viewed man prior to regeneration. It’s also important to realize that if one’s anthropology is incorrect then so is their christology and soteriology. The most important thing for you to consider is the fact that Calvinism is not the faith once delivered to the saints.

    There is a site that politely discusses Calvinist objections to Orthodoxy called Orthodox Reformed Bridge.

    Go with God and may He bring us all into unity, brother.


  3. John you wrote, “Our only appropriate response is to accept God’s truth with joy and serve Him with gladness all the days of our eternal life!”

    Your reply is most likely the determinism understanding of what free-will is. However, this is not how the patristic sources are understanding freewill. Instead of only one response to grace, there are two: Acceptance and denial.

  4. Romans 9:14-18 ….What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he will…
    actually please consider opening the scripture and continue reading as Paul clearly is writing about the sovereign election of God….I was just taken aback by the comment of this verse by St. Augustine. Would you be able to expound his meaning of this verse? Because, on this end of reading it, its not matching with what Paul actually wrote.

  5. Very interesting, I was raised as a child in the Methodist church in Mexico, then as a teen, a went to a Baptist church, later on as I was studying theology I liked very much Reformed Theology so I started to attend a Presbyterian church. In Mexico, we had missionaries that came from the Catholic church making converts by force, then Protestant and evangelical missionaries came to our country. I am sad to see how most of all us make divisions and make many doctrines so complicated, but the main thing is just the gospel and a transformed heart. May God bless us all and us all for his glory. I would love to visit an Orthodox church one day and learn and enjoy what God has done and is doing with you dear brothers.

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