We return to the subject, Do we all believe in the same God?, by offering a few reflections on the statement by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “God takes pleasure in the peaceful coexistence of humans and, indeed, of those who worship Him, regardless of differences that exist in faith among the three great monotheistic religions”!
What is our understanding when we say, “I believe in ONE God”? That since there is one God, everyone who says that believes in God believes in the true God? “God is God,” you say, “no matter what name you give to Him, so we all believe in the same God.” If this is what you believe, let me ask you this: How come God responded only to Elijah, sending fire from heaven, and not to the entreaties of the priests of Baal? They called upon the name of Baal, but no one answered their prayer (cf. 1 Kings 18:17ff.). How come? Because Baal is not the true God. And notice well: It was not only a difference in the name (Yahweh versus Baal), but also a difference between the true God and a false god, because according to scripture “all the gods of the nations are idols” (Ps. 96:4 — “demons,” according to the Septuagint).
Is Allah the true God?
Arab Christians pray to Allah (that means God, in Arabic), but do they pray to the same God as the Moslems do? No! Here is the proof. In the “Prayer Behind the Ambon,” read at the end of the divine Liturgy, Christ is addressed as, “Our true God,” “Χριστὸς ὁ ἀληθινὸς Θεὸς ἡμῶν.” Jesus Christ is our one and only God: “He is the true God and life eternal” (1 John 5:20). Are there any other gods? No! This is what we say in another prayer, said by the Priest immediately after holy communion, “You are our God (remember, it is addressed to Christ). Besides You we know of no other [god],” “Σὺ γάρ εἶ θεὸς ἡμῶν, ἐκτὸς Σοῦ ἄλλον οὐκ οἴδαμεν.” So let them worship this God. Only then we can say that we worship the same God.
Is Yahweh, the God the Jews worship today, the true God?
No, because they don’t worship Jesus Christ either, who is the only true God. Of course there is an objection: “How can the God of the Old Testament be different than the God of the New Testament?” The answer is, It is not a different God; it is the same God! “But if the Jews pray to the God of the Old Testament, then they pray to the true God, right?” Wrong! – Because the God of the Old Testament is Christ! “Where does our Church say that?” It says that in the inscription around Christ’s “crown of light” (halo), “Ο ΩΝ” declaring that Christ is Yahweh, the One Who Is, the “I Am Who I Am,” the God of the Old Testament. That is why when the Lord said to the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am” (notice, not I was, but I AM), the scripture says, “They took up stones to throw at Him”–because He was appropriating God’s name (John 8:58-59).
These things may be hard for us to understand and to accept, they may even sound offensive and definitely not politically correct. However they were not politically correct then, either. When the Lord told the Jews, “I and the Father are one,” they tried to stone Him again, because, they said, “You, being a man, make Yourself God” (John 10:30.33). They understood perfectly what the Lord was saying, but they were unwilling to accept it. We too should understand and accept that “there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12b). That is why “There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus Christ]” (Acts 4:12a).
The True God
Christianity is the only religion among the hundreds in existence, which believes in the One True God; it is the only religion, which worships the One True God; it is the only religion, which leads to the One True God. That’s why Christ said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” and not, “I am one of the ways, I am one of the truths, I am one of the lives.” In no equivocal terms He added, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In fact without Him there is no true knowledge of God. He declared, “He who sent me is true, and Him you do not know” (John 7:28). True knowledge of God can be had only through Jesus Christ, who revealed the true God to us.
Before Christ appeared in the world and revealed the true God to the human beings, the knowledge people had of God was incomplete. Now we know God through Jesus Christ: “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7). Without Christ we cannot have knowledge of God: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). The true God is now known only in the Body of Christ, His Church: “In Judah God is known, His name is great in Israel” (Ps. 76:1). “Judah,” explains St. Athanasios, “stands for the Church.”
The Lord said, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). But how will the true worshipers know the Father in order to worship Him? The Lord said, “No one knows the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Mt. 11:27). In his monograph The Church (Περὶ τῆς Ἐκκλησίας) Saint Nektarios writes: “Therefore not everyone knows God the Father, but only those to whom the Son of God reveals Him… Only the faithful who know God the Father through Jesus Christ, only they truly know God and truly worship God… Those who worship God without having the Son reveal Him to them, do not worship Him in truth. They are not true worshipers, for they must first believe in the Son of God who alone knows and can reveal the Father. Those who do not know the Son are not true worshipers” (pp. 43-44).
This article originally appeared in The True Vine, Fr. Emmanuel’s parish newsletter, in May 2008. A Dutch translation of this article: Orthodoxen: Texten van de Orthodoxe Kerk