What is Christianity?
Many people see Christianity as one of
the numerous philosophies and religions known from antiquity. Certainly
Christianity is not a philosophy... The main difference between Christianity
and philosophy is that the latter is human thinking, while Christianity
is a revelation... by God Himself to man…
Christianity cannot be regarded
as a religion... as religion presents itself today. God is usually
visualized as dwelling in heaven and directing human history from
there: He is extremely exacting, seeking satisfaction from man, who
has fallen to earth in his sickness and weakness. There is a wall
of separation between God and man. This has to be surmounted by man,
and religion is a very effective help. Various religious rites are
employed for this purpose.
According to another view, man feels powerless
in the universe and needs a mighty God to help him in his weakness.
In this view God does not create man, but man creates God. Again,
religion is conceived as man's relationship to the Absolute God,
that is to say, the "relationship
of the `I' to the Absolute Thou". Yet again, many regard religion
as a means whereby the people are deluded into transferring their
hopes to the future life. In this way strong powers put pressure
on the people by means of religion.
But Christianity is something
higher than these interpretations and theories; it cannot be contained
within the usual conception and definition of religion given in the "natural" religions.
God is not the Absolute Thou, but a living Person Who is in organic
communion with man. Moreover, Christianity does not simply transfer
the problem to the future or await the delight of the kingdom of
heaven after history and after the end of time. In Christianity the
future is lived in the present and the kingdom of God begins in this
life. According to the patristic interpretation, the kingdom of God
is the grace of the Triune God, it is vision of the uncreated Light.
Orthodox are not waiting for the end of history and the end of time,
but through living in Christ we are running to meet the end of history
and thus already living the life expected after the Second Coming.
St. Symeon the New Theologian says that he who has seen the uncreated
light and united with God is not awaiting the Second Coming of the
Lord but living it. So the eternal embraces us at every moment of
time. Therefore past, present and future are essentially lived in
one unbroken unity. This is so-called condensed time.
cannot be characterized as the ‘opium of the people', precisely because
it does not postpone the problem. It offers life, transforms biological
life, sanctifies and transforms societies. Where Orthodoxy is lived
in the right way and in the Holy Spirit, it is a communion of God
and men, of heavenly and earthly, of the living and the dead. In
this communion all the problems which present themselves in our life
are truly resolved.
Since the membership of
the Church includes [spiritually] sick people and beginners in the
spiritual life, it is to be expected that some of them understand
Christianity as religion in the sense referred to above. Moreover,
the spiritual life is a dynamic journey. It begins with baptism,
which is purification of the `image', and continues through ascetic
living aimed at attaining `likeness', which is to say communion with
God. Anyway it must be made clear that even when we still speak of
Christianity as a religion we must do it with certain necessary presuppositions.
first is that Christianity is mainly a Church. ‘Church' means ‘Body
of Christ'. There are many places in the New Testament where Christianity
is called the Church. We shall only mention Christ's words: "You
are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" (Matt.16:18)
and the words of the Apostle Paul to the Colossians: "And he
is the head of the body, the church" (1:18) and to his disciple
Timothy: "...so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself
in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar
and ground of the truth" (1Tim,.3,15). This means that Christ
does not simply dwell in heaven and direct history and the lives
of men from there, but He is united with us. He assumed human nature
and deified it; thus in Christ deified human nature is at the right
hand of the Father. So Christ is our life and we are ‘members of
The second presupposition is that the aim of the
Christian is to attain the blessed state of deification. Deification
is identical with `likeness', that is, to be like God. However, in
order to reach the likeness, to attain the vision of God, and for
this vision not to be a consuming fire but a life-giving light, purification
must previously have taken place. This purification and healing is
the Church's work. When the Christian participates in worship without
undergoing life-giving purification - and moreover these acts of
worship also aim towards man's purification - then he is not really
living within the Church.
Christianity without purification is utopia.
So when we are being purified, especially when we are seeing to our
healing, we can speak of religion. And this accords with the words
of the Lord's brother James: "If anyone among you thinks he
is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own
heart, this one's religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion
before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in
their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (Jas.1:26-27).
abstinence gives us the right to claim that Christianity is neither
philosophy nor ‘natural' religion, but mainly healing. It is the
healing of a person's passions so that he may attain communion and
union with God.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan the Lord showed
us several truths. As soon as the Samaritan saw the man who had fallen
among thieves who had wounded him and left him half dead, he "had
compassion on him and went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring
on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to
an inn and took care of him" (Luk.10:33f). Christ treated the
wounded man and brought him to the inn, to the Hospital which is
the Church. Here Christ is presented as a physician who heals man's
illnesses, and the Church as a Hospital.
It is very characteristic
that in analyzing this parable St. John Chrysostom presents the truths
which we have just emphasized. Man went down "from the heavenly
state to the state of the devil's deception, and he fell among thieves,
that is, the devil and the hostile powers". The wounds which
he sustained are the various sins. As David says, "My wounds
are foul and festering because of my foolishness" (Ps.38:5).
For "every sin brings bruises
and wounds". The Samaritan is Christ Himself, who came down
from heaven to earth to heal wounded man. He used wine and oil for
the wounds. That is to say, "by mixing the Holy Spirit with
his blood, he brought life to man". According to another interpretation, "oil
brings the comforting word, wine provides the astringent lotion,
the instruction which brings concentration to the scattered mind".
He set him upon his own animal: "Taking flesh upon his own divine
shoulders, he lifted it towards the Father in Heaven". Thereupon
the good Samaritan, Christ, led the man "into the wonderful
and spacious inn, this universal Church". He gave him to the
innkeeper, who is the Apostle Paul and "through Paul to the
high priests and teachers and ministers of each church", saying: "Take
care of the people of the Gentiles whom I have given to you in the
Church. Since men are sick, wounded by sin, heal them, putting on
them a stone plaster, that is, the prophetic sayings and the gospel
teachings, making them whole through the admonitions and exhortations
of the Old and New Testaments." So according to St. John Chrysostom,
Paul is the one who upholds the churches of God "and heals all
men through spiritual admonitions, distributing the bread of offering
to each one..." .
In St. John Chrysostom's interpretation of this parable it is clearly
evident that the Church is a Hospital which heals those sick with
sin, while the bishops and priests, like the Apostle Paul, are the
healers of the people of God.
These truths also appear in many other
places in the New Testament. The Lord said: "Those who are well
have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Matt.9:12).
Likewise Christ, as a physician of souls and bodies, was "...healing
all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people...and
they brought to him all sick people who were afflicted with various
diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics,
and paralytics; and he healed them" (Matt.4:23f). The Apostle
Paul is well aware that the conscience of men, especially of simple
ones, is weak: "When
you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience,
you sin against Christ" (ICor.8:12). The Book of Revelation
says that John the Evangelist saw a river of the water of life proceeding
from the throne of God and of the Lamb. "On either side of the
river was the tree of life...and the leaves of the tree were for
the healing of the nations" (Rev.22:1f)….
So in the Church we
are divided into the sick, those undergoing treatment, and those
- saints - who have already been healed. "The Fathers
do not categorize people as moral and immoral or good and bad on
the basis of moral laws. This division is superficial. At depth humanity
is differentiated into the sick in soul, those being healed and those
healed. All who are not in a state of illumination are sick in soul...It
is not only good will, good resolve, moral practice and devotion
to the Orthodox Tradition which make an Orthodox, but also purification,
illumination and deification.” These stages of healing are the purpose
of the Orthodox Way of Life.
By Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of
Nafpaktos, from Orthodox Psychotherapy
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