Ask Fr. John: Explaining spiritual versus religious beliefs

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Is Orthodoxy “religious” or “spiritual.” — Anonymous

Part 1
It depends on how you understand the words “religious” and “spiritual.” I hear so frequently the sentiment that one is “spiritual, not religious.” Really? Orthodox too! At least according to the more classical definition of “religion.”
The word “religion” implies a movement of humanity toward God or “the greater.” Thus, religion becomes a matter of human persons searching out and discerning God or  the “higher things,” via personal experience. In other words, humanity tries to figure out “god.”
In Orthodox Christianity, we believe that God is on the approach to us and that he has revealed himself to us. In order to demonstrate my point, I need to articulate some of our beliefs.
The Orthodox gathering of believers believe that God has revealed to humanity how he has existed from eternity as Trinity.
We believe that God, in order to more perfectly reveal himself and actually restore us back to himself, became a human man while remaining God. This was the God-man named Jesus Christ, God the Son of God the Father.
He revealed Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the “operating manual” for life. In our belief, religion and spirituality are about receiving this revelation holistically, believing it or not, and then living out of faith and belief. The need to “figure God out” becomes a non-issue.
My point? According to this understanding, since Orthodoxy is not man on the approach to God, figuring “god” out, but rather God on the approach to us, revealing himself to us, Orthodoxy does not properly qualify as a “religion.” Thus, Orthodoxy could not be “religious.”
On the other hand, if we use the more contemporary understanding of “religion,” Orthodoxy is categorized as one of “the world religions.” However, Orthodox Christianity frequently gets oversimplified and put into a box with the other “faith traditions.”
How can the very different views of a ancient Church be understood if it gets called “the same as all the rest?” We do not think it is wise or helpful for anyone to be oversimplified.
To the question about spirituality. We believe that one can not be spiritual without “religious practice” and that one can not be “religious” without spirituality.
It is both and, not either or. Why? We will speak more about spirituality next time.
For now I will close with a quote of Mark the Ascetic: “Do the good you know and the good you don’t know will be revealed to you.”