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