|Thoughts of nowadays (II)|
There are many wonderful places that I have been privileged to visit and experience in the past. Each one with its own uniqueness and excitement. However, the place that has been always the closest to my heart was the small town, somewhere in the middle of the mountains in Northern Romania, where my grandparents used to live. This beautiful mountain resort always brought me the delight, peace and happiness of a meaningful life. As a small kid, a teenager and then a young adult, I have always looked forward to being part of that small community of wonderful people, during my summer or winter school vacations.
Thinking back to that period of my life, I am absolutely impressed discovering one thing that I didn’t notice at that time or I didn’t understand very well its meaning: the multi-culturalism of that place, the diversity of nationalities and religions that have lived together for years in peace, harmony and respect; diverse in beliefs and traditions but, at the same time, united as one strong community. Romanians or Hungarians, Jews or Ukrainians, Germans or Polish, all showed me from that very young age how to live in respect and love to your neighbour. Even though they had different beliefs, Christians or non-Christians, those people always knew to respect each others faiths, religions and traditions, without any interference. Even more, they were participating as a family to any happy or sad moments in the life of each member of that community, regardless of their nationality or religion. I remember one of my grandparents’ neighbour, who was not a Christian believer, a wonderful person who loved us (my brother and me) as his own grandchildren. He always had small presents, fruit or sweets for us. And they were delicious. But most of all, he gave us good advice every time we were about to leave that place and to go back to school, in the city. He used to tell us: “My boys, be good, careful and wise, and be strong in your faith. Same as your grandparents have always been.” I learned at that moment that even though our good and loving neighbour was following a different religion, he had always showed tremendous respect for ours (Christian Orthodox) or others, same as we were taught to respect his beliefs and tradition. And nobody has ever tried there to mix the different beliefs, or, how our modern world would say, to “reconcile” the different faiths.
In the last few years, I have heard some people saying and trying to convince me that “all regions are the same; they represent nothing else than different paths to the same peak of the mountain”. This might be true! However, only God would be able to confirm it. In addition, a few people told me a very popular story that basically is in the same register, known as “The blind men and the elephant”. The story says that a group of blind men were brought beside an elephant (however, they were not told what animal was that). Then all of them started to describe the part of the animal that they were touching: the head, the ears, the trunk, the legs, etc. The story confirms that all of them spoke the truth, each one describing correctly what they were touching. However, none of them described the animal in a complete way. Now, the conclusion of this story, as it was explained to me, afirms that same as the elephant that was partially described by the blind men, all wise people, preachers, prophets or scholars during our human history discovered only parts of what the universal God represents. So, in other words, all were speaking the truth, all describing the same God, but none of them in a complete way. Some of them more, others less! Or, he who has seen the Lord in a particular way limits the Lord to that alone and thinks that He is nothing else.
Well, I am not the right person to express any opinion about the truth of this story. I am so small for this world in order to try this assessment. All I could say is that this type of “reconciliation” between different beliefs, that our contemporary “wise” people are trying to promote, is nothing else than a disrespect to all beliefs and religions. In my opinion, if anyone says that all religions are the same, automatically negates all of them. And that proves that those people have very little in common with any religion. Because unless somebody is able to truly experience all of them, then there is no way to make this statement. All religions have good teachings, are peaceful and offer almost similar good moral values to everybody. However, religion doesn’t mean just that. You should go deeper and understand the associated faith. And the faith must be grounded in the truth. Faith is not that simple, like an act of intellectual belief. Faith that remains just in the head is not the working or saving faith. For Christians, faith is the spiritual force by which we move every day. And most probably a similar statement could be made for other religions too. What might be different is the way we get stronger in our own faith. For example, the first action that the Christian faith brings should be repentance, which means to turn around: change of mind, heart and direction in life, towards the Savior, Jesus Christ. Our Holy Fathers tell us that repentance is a life long process, not a once-in-a-lifetime event. This is why I cannot understand how anyone in this world could reach so easy to the conclusion of knowing all religions?! In my opinion, this religious syncretism could be explained only as an effect (or action!) within the current stage of the world, the globalization trend, that tries to make all people the same, or making everybody thinking in the same way. And this is coming hand in hand with the secularism of our twenty-first century society. A society that is valuing more the material world than the spiritual one, losing day by day its balance.
I want to point out that I have no intention to prove that one religion is better than the other. I would be a foul trying to do this since I have so much respect to people that have deep faith and show trust in their beliefs. All that I want to express are my feelings (in regards to the new syncretistic thinking) based on the understanding of my ancestors faith and religion, Christian Orthodoxy that has existed uninterrupted and unchanged since our Lord, Jesus Christ has ascended to the Father, 40 days after His resurrection, and then sent the Holy Spirit to us on the day of Pentecost.
“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth come through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Yes, the truth was given to us directly by God, through his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. In the Holy Scriptures is written: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3); “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12); “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30) or “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). It should be very clear to any Christian believer that the way we reach to the Father has been forever defined in His Son. He represents the complete truth (not partial truth!) because He is the unique revelation of the Father. Jesus Christ is the life who became Man so we might have eternal life, and not even death could stop us from coming to Him. Just reading these few quotes from the Scriptures, one could understand that our religion clearly defines who God is and what should be our way to salvation. We enter the Holy Place with Christ by virtue of our union with Him. And this is done basically through our worship to God (participating in the Holy liturgies and prayers), by faith and by showing always our gratitude to God. There is nothing in this world that the Christian faith cannot explain. One just has to look for those answers within, and I assure you that will be found.
I would like to mention one more thing. Throughout the history of Christianity, the Truth has been confessed and the Way has been followed over and over by many people; first by the Apostles, then by numerous martyrs and saints, people that chose to be punished, imprisoned or even to be put to death for their true faith in Our Lord, Jesus Christ. One could wonder why somebody would let himself killed for something that might not be true?! The Apostles were called by the Son of God to follow Him, they traveled with Him, they ate with Him, they prayed and preached with Him. They received the truth and believed that He was the Christ; otherwise they would never have chosen to die for a false belief or false prophet, don’t you think? On top of that, there were all the extraordinary works and miracles performed by Him “that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (John 10:38). Also, if we remember St. Stephen, the first martyr, who was killed with stones for confessing his faith in Jesus. Or even looking back in the history of my country, people like Constantin Brancoveanu, a great ruler that chose to have him and his 4 sons beheaded because he didn’t want to give up on his Christian Orthodox faith in front of the pagan invaders of his country. And many others, known or unknown. They all represent examples to us in order to make every Christian stronger in his/her beliefs. At least, this is how I feel. And this is why the Orthodox Church celebrates All Saints every year in the first Sunday after Pentecost, to commemorate their sacrifice for Christianity.
With your permission, I would like in the end to reproduce from Romanian into English a few paragraphs written by Mother (Maica) Siluana, from Romania: “Neither the followers of any religion, nor any religion by itself cannot be better than others. Always one’s own religion will be the best and the only one that is true for himself/herself. People, who say that all religions are good, in fact have no religion. For me, as an example, my Christian Orthodox faith is the only one that could lead me to salvation. I could find thousands of good aspects and truths in many other religions, however, I received the Truth just through my faith because only Jesus, our Lord, says about Himself that He is God and He is the Truth! Then, my God means also the Holy Trinity, and Love! And there are undeniable proofs about this, for my heart and for my mind. And I know that my God is the God of all people; He died for all of us, He resurrected for all of us and He wants everybody to receive Him for their salvation.”
This was meant to be a pure and innocent thinking from a Christian believer’s point of view. If somehow I hurt anyone’s feelings or beliefs, I would like to ask for forgiveness in front of everyone. It was absolutely unintentionally.
Cristian Zamrii 6/18/2009