The Uniqueness of Our Faith
It would be tempting to think of other religions as offering essentially the same thing the holy Church is offering, with perhaps our religion having a relative superiority over them, if any at all. This would be a fatal mistake. Because by doing so we would be comparing “the blood of goats and calves” with “the blood of Christ.” Thus we would exchange the imitation for the real thing, the copy for the original, we would prefer to live in the shadow rather than in the light of the Sun of Righteousness, we would refuse the real cleansing for what is merely its prefigurement, its symbol, its image, its anticipation, its typos. And in exchanging the created for the uncreated we would be found guilty of idolatry. Therefore far from getting us “closer to God,” the other religions would alienate us from God.
Christ is not simply “better,” at a higher level, even the perfection. The perfect superseded the imperfect. The old was temporary; when the new arrived He rendered it “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13). We cannot therefore say that if we are Christ’s followers we get a perfect 10, but if we happen to follow Judaism that’s worth a 9, if Islam that deserves an 8, and if Sikhism appeals to us we should get at least a 7, and as for Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists, Taoists, Shintoists, Shumminists, Janists and Zoroastrians they get a passing grade as well. And why leave animists, universalists and new-agers out? They deserve a place in the sun also. In fact any belief in God certainly cannot lead us astray — after all there is only one God with different names, right? But why should we exclude otherwise decent people, who may be religious theists, rationalists, enlightened atheists or even historical materialists, just because they say they don’t believe in God? As long as they are good people, God will surely have mercy on them as, we hope, He will on us. After all, in the ultimate analysis, isn’t “to be good and to do good” what counts? Thus reason the humanists, who want to substitute the uniqueness of Christ with a purely human vision.
This subjective, humanistic view of “religions,” according to which Christianity is just another religion, while consoling and appealing to many today, albeit among them many Orthodox Christians as well, is plainly and radically wrong.
A charming tapestry
The religions of the world are viewed as cultural manifestations, worth studying and preserving. Here in the US, religions and their practices and traditions are seen as an enrichment of our multi-culture society, adding charm to “the tapestry we call ‘religion,’” and, more importantly, offering choices. Isn’t this choice that counts? Are we all the same? Since we are not, then what would be more natural from giving expression to our particularity and individuality, our uniqueness as human beings, than to have our own set of beliefs and traditions? This diversity, far from separating us and bringing clash among peoples, could, and should, be viewed as a beautiful tapestry, a beautiful mosaic, creating beauty, harmony, balance. Says an author of world religions, from whom we quoted above: “Despite the rich diversity of its expressions, all of religion shares the goal of tying people back to something behind the surface of life — a greater reality which lies beyond, or invisibly infuses, the world that we can perceive with our five senses.”1 Different religions simply represent different attempts to “connect” with this greater reality. Why, then, should we consider one religion superior to another? Why should we impose our beliefs on others? Why can’t we respect the religious preferences of others, as we do with their food taste, ideologies and philosophies? Why behave as religious fanatics, instead of opening our minds, accepting other people as they are, living with each other in brotherhood and love?
Unnecessary but helpful
Then, there is another view, the modern, “enlightened”, materialistic and scientific view, according to which man invents religion to satisfy his needs: “Man makes religion, religion does not make man,” said Karl Marx.3 Man, with his science, can explain everything, can create everything — now, with cloning, even man himself! At most we allow that some search and pursuit of a certain spirituality can have “positive” effects on human beings — back to what we were saying earlier: let us respect each other, live in harmony with each other, make our environment “user-friendly,” protect our environmental resources, make our life on this planet more comfortable, raise the standard of living of all human beings, seek peaceful coexistence among all nations — now these are pursuits everyone would agree with and strive for, no matter what our particular beliefs are. Religion, then, not only need not divide us, but it is not needed to unite us — it is not needed. Period. Respecting each other’s rights and personal freedom is what unites people, both as individuals and as nations. Let us then unite hands, and celebrate the sacredness of life and existence, even co-existence.
A precursor of the Ecumenical movement, Christoph Blumhardt, wrote: “We must finally divorce ourselves from the idea that the Lord Jesus Christ would have allowed Himself to be cloistered up in some one of the many churches or sects... Christ does not meddle in the quarrels of churches. His kingdom is much higher...” The time of creeds and churches should not even be posed in our time. We left all that behind us, he said.2 I watched on video the young Presbyterian Korean feminist “theologian” Dr. Chung Hium Kiung, addressing the World Council of Churches in Canberra, Australia, in 1991. She invoked 18 different spirits: among them the spirits of the forests, the spirits of the creatures of the sea, the spirits of earth, air and waters and, in the same breath, the Spirit of God! Imagine: “The Spirit of Truth” on a par with the demonic spirits! “The Giver of Life” with the spirits of death! Then during the Second Parliament of World’s Religions held in Chicago in 1993, the Tibetan Buddhist Dalai Lama was applauded and cheered loudly by a gathering of 6,000 representatives of some 250 religions, including Roman Catholics, in which he communicated his syncretistic ideas: “One religion cannot satisfy millions of people,” he said, adding: “The best religion is what is best for me, which may not be what is best for you.” Then he added: “All religions are more or less the same,” thus placing the God-founded Christian Church on the same plane with idolatry and the pantheon of the world’s false religions. Is this the religion we want to have?
Where does that put Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross? Are we ready to accept that it cannot satisfy everyone? Do we see why we cannot unite hands with the world’s religions? Because our liberation and redemption are based not on our knowledge, whether rational, mystical or scientific, not on our gut feelings, not on our efforts nor on our perception of truth or love, and not on our perceived union with the divine Being either, but it was revealed to us through the Only Begotten Son of God that salvation is obtained only through His blood, and our acceptance of its unique power to redeem us and transform us and unite us with Him. “Salvation is not [available] in nobody else [but Christ],” says the holy scripture, in a strong double negative phrase (Acts 4:12). Therefore there are not, and there cannot be, any other paths. That’s why we reject and abhor any syncretistic notions that there are other paths that lead to God, other than Christ and the Church He established, a Church we identify fully with the Orthodox Church. Presumptuous, intolerant, bigotist as this may sound, we believe wholeheartedly in the uniqueness of the “path” called Christ: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6).
The true path
This hardly allows for acceptance of other paths. Christianity is unique, because if it weren’t, then Christ would be (Lord forgive me for saying this) a charlatan and a deceiver and a liar, when He said (let’s repeat it),
“No one comes to the Father except by Me.”
He also said:
“Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)
“He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23).
The chief of the Apostles also says:
“Every soul that does not listen to that prophet (i.e. Christ) shall be destroyed from the people” (Acts 3:23).
There are no other saviors, redeemers, or mediators. Unity, oneness, unification may come about only in the person of Christ and in His Body, the holy Orthodox Church, and not by agreeing to some lowest common denominator in an ecumenistic gathering of WCC or in a syncretistic gathering of PWR. Let’s face it:
“The Truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21)
and in no one else. So we
“cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons” (1 Cor. 10:21).
These are hard words, but express the Orthodox faith. Elsewhere also the Apostle Paul says:
“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil-workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the true circumcision” (Phil. 3:2-3).
He talks about the Jews, who, as he says elsewhere, “displease God” (1 Thes. 2:15). The biblical truth, the teaching of the Church, is that our Faith is unique. If not, then all of our Fathers and Mothers in the faith that preceded us would be deceived, because they preached the uniqueness of Christianity. Who would want to follow such false religion if one were to accept that there are other paths that lead to the same place?
Today we are super-sensitive to the issue of the uniqueness of our Faith. If not ourselves, then our sons and daughters are, who are married to non-Orthodox, and maybe to non-Christians. We already exclude their spouses from our sacraments. So instead of finding ways to bring such people closer to Church, are we saying, that they are lost, that there is no hope for them, unless they become Orthodox? No. Not at all. What we are saying is that God’s mercy is infinite and His love for us immeasurable. We are all saved by God’s mercy. But as salvation came out of Israel (“Jesus” means, The One Who Saves), likewise salvation continues to be made available only through Christ’s Body, the true Israel, the Orthodox Church. “He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9). All the means of salvation are available through His Church. Those who despise the Church and its means to obtain salvation should know that they despise the way God chose to make His salvation available to us, and they should be aware of the risks associated with it.
Lest we tragically misunderstand the uniqueness of our Faith, we say with God’s inspired word:
“The sacrifices of the non-Orthodox are abomination to the Lord, while the prayers of the Orthodox are acceptable to Him” (Pr. 15:8).
And elsewhere the holy scripture repeats:
“The sacrifices of the non-Orthodox are an abomination to the Lord for they offer them illegitimately” (Pr. 21:27).
God’s first commandment is:
“You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3, Deut. 5:7)
We should resist the temptation to compromise and dilute our faith in our “pluralistic” society. Therefore the participation by the various Orthodox jurisdictions in the WCC should be terminated immediately, because it undermines the uniqueness of our Church in the jumble of the Protestant “churches.” Let’s stop recognizing “sister churches,” “valid” baptisms outside the Church, apostolic succession, priesthood, sacraments — these are the unique and exclusive gifts of the Lord to His “all fair love, in whom there is no flaw” (Song of Songs, 4:7).
One with the Body of Christ
As for us, Orthodox Christians, we too should know, my dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, that the Crucified Lord is not reached through baptism and chrismation alone, through contemplation alone, through prayer alone, through ascetical practices alone, through obedience to God’s commandments alone, through faith alone, through works of love alone, through the sacraments of the Church alone, through all of the above put together — but through all of the above and especially, and above all, through God’s grace, mercy, love and compassion, and sacrifice on the Cross. It is especially in the partaking of the Cup of the Lord that we unite ourselves with Him and with one another. It is supremely in the act of holy Communion with the most sacred Body and Blood of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ that everyone is drawn to oneness, to unity with the divine, and the human, and with one’s own inner being. Redemption, spiritual cleansing, eternal life for which we all long, are found only in the blood of Christ. Freedom from the oppression of sin is offered only by the crucified Lord.
We stand before the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. We all know there is no substitute. Whoever eats of this Bread and drinks of this Wine worthily has life. This we know. This we preach. For this we live. For this we are ready to give our lives.
Heading photo by T.H.
- Living Religions: An Encyclopaedia of the World’s Faiths, Mary Pat Fisher 1997, p. 12.
- Quoted by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, Selected Essays, p. 213.
- Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right”.