(recycling a post of mine)
Can an Orthodox believe in a "Ransom Theory"?
The Ransom theory was common among the early Church Fathers but it was repudiated in no uncertain terms by Saint Gregory Nazianzen (4th century) who said:
"Was it paid to the evil one? Monstrous thought!
The devil receives a ransom not only from God but of God ..
To the Father? But we were not in bondage to him ...
And could the Father delight in the death of his Son?"
Of course salvation can be thought of as a ransom. Following the Church Fathers, the East teaches that Christ, on the Cross, gave "His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28), (Mark 10:45).
The "ransom" is paid to the grave. As the Lord revealed to the Prophet Hosea (Hosea 13:14)
"I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death."
In a sense, He pays the ransom to the devil who is the keeper of the grave and holds the power of death (Heb. 2:14)
"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity
so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that
is, the devil."
But despite Gregory's objections above the idea became popular. Saint Gregory protested that the question of "Who received the payment?" should not be pressed hard. No matter what debt the Devil was owed it could not possibly have included God himself. On the other hand, the Father could not have been the recipient of the ransom, since he was not the one holding us captive. And if the blood of Isaac had not pleased him, why would he desire the blood of his beloved son?
Saint Gregory sums up: "the Father accepts Christ's sacrifice without having demanded it; the Son offers it to honour him; and the result is the defeat of the Evil One. This is as much as we shall say of Christ; the greater portion shall be reverenced with silence."
The Roman Catholic Saint Anselm took aim at the exaggerated versions of the ransom theory, but didn't agree to leave the greater portion to silence. He theorised that the payment *was* made to God the Father. In Anselm's formulation, our sins were like an offence against the honour of a mighty ruler. The ruler is not free to simply forgive the transgression; restitution must be made. (This is a crucial new element in the story; earlier Christians believed that God the Father did, in fact, freely forgive us, like the father of the Prodigal Son - that parable deserves serious thought in connection with this discussion.)
Anselm continues: No human would be adequate to pay this debt, so God the Son volunteers to do so. "If the Son chose to make over the claim He had on God to man, could the Father justly forbid Him doing so, or refuse to man what the Son willed to give him?" Christ satisfies our debt in this, the "Satisfaction Theory." Western Christian theology marched on from that point, encountering controversies and developments and revisions, but locked on the idea that Christ's death was directed toward the Father. When Western theologians look back at the centuries before Anselm they can't find his theory anywhere (well, there are some premonitions in Tertullian and Cyprian, but it wasn't the mainstream.) And Anselm's ideas which developed when Christendom had been rent in two remain, still, essentially unknown to the ancient Churches of the East.