ing),” Fr. John explained, “was that we are all divine by nature, and if we dig away, we will find that divinity. But the teaching of theosis is very different. God shares His being with us. It’s not part of us naturally. The distinction between uncreated and created is essential for the Christian.”
look on My Face and live,’ Who said, ‘I am very different from you,’ [Who asserts that] He is the Creator and we are the created – to say that this God could take on human flesh, and know sorrow, is to make a shattering claim,” Fr. John explained. “But it is the claim that we are staking our life on.”
This story illustrated how one can at once acknowledge the shared aspects between other religions and Christianity – in this case, the understanding that salvation, the return to wholeness, is achieved when one participates in the life of God; while at the same time revealing the radical difference in the way, or rather, the One, in Whom this participation is possible. Fr. John explained that, often, honest engagement with other religions can actually sharpen and deepen one’s own understanding of his or her Christian faith. “We need this shaking up for the sake of clarity,” Fr. John asserted, “We can get so used to the Christian language and the Christian way of seeing things that we become a little callous and we don’t really see how radical [our] claims are and how shocking they look to people on the outside.”
Christianity is radically different from other faith traditions, and if one is to take seriously the claims that Christ made, then there is an exclusivity in Christ. Where, then, does dialogue intersect with His supremely bold claim: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Me”? After a brief overview of the differences between Christianity and other world religions, Fr. John returned to the question of dialogue and common ground. He explained the various ecumenical philosophies that are prevalent today, from the Total Replacement Model, wherein all other religions are replaced by Christianity, and everything in any other religion is false; to the Mutuality Model, wherein no one religion can claim to be “the truth”, and all faiths lead to the same place. Fr. John also described a model adopted by many Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians, wherein it is possible that God does work through other religions in order to save people, but ultimately all Grace and salvation comes through Jesus Christ exclusively. In other words, it is always Christ Who saves, Who is the fulfillment of man’s desire to be healed and made whole; and the fullness of this Grace and salvation are exclusively found in the Church. If God saves others outside of the Church, the salvation still ultimately
Precisely what safeguards the Christian engaged in dialogue with people of other faiths from slipping into religious relativism – even the Christian who acknowledges similarities and the shared human experience of the search for wholeness and meaning – are the claims that Christianity makes about Jesus Christ, and more fundamentally the claims that Jesus Christ makes about Himself. “The idea that the God who could create the universe from nothing, who did say, ‘You cannot
must come through Jesus Christ. Father John concluded his talk with a number of stories from history where people either had their faith in Christ renewed, or discovered Christianity for the first time, because of an encounter with another religion. As a young man, Fr. John became enamored with many of the concepts and practices of Buddhist meditation. Soon, though, he was blessed to discover the Philokalia. In reading that work, he rejoiced that the Orthodox embraced stillness and watchfulness of the heart, but in a much richer way, a way that “is nourished by sacramental life.” At the same time, he cautioned us that there is a kind of relativism that can actually shut down real dialogue. “When we sit down in dialogue with a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, we are not trying to come to some common denominator religion,” Fr. John said. “We’re not trying to get to the one thing we can agree on and the rest of the stuff isn’t important.” The point of real dialogue is honesty and respect for one another as human beings. To acknowledge common strivings towards wholeness, and to even commend the good fruits of the genuine labors of people of other faiths, is not compromising our faith in Christ. Nor is it complying with the relativism of this age. Honest, respectful dialogue may even provide us an opportunity to share the Good News, the One through Whom any good comes, and Who is the answer and destination of those who honestly seek Truth, Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Tikhonaire from 2010