Ask Fr. John: Exploring Orthodoxy

-A A +A

Is Orthodoxy “religious” or “spiritual?”

Part 2

“We know that the law is spiritual.” Rom. 7:14
What? Again, Orthodox have a completely different usage of the word “religion” than the modern understanding. “Religion” as a concept has been tainted in the West, due to major abuses and to teaching falsities as the “ancient faith.” These days spirituality tends to be about freedom to do what one wants with regards to “goodness” “virtue” and “higher power.” So-called “religion” is oversimplified into oppressive dogma, rules, and doing “stuff.” It has become a synonym for “rules” or “law.” Naturally many prefer the “spiritual” and reject so-called “religion.”
In Paul’s statement above, we see that “religion,” is actually spiritual. We say that religion is actually good, but only when it is spiritual. Classically, “religion” is part of spirituality and spirituality is part of “religion.” Making them separate concepts is foreign in Eastern Christianity.
If religion, classically, is man searching out and discerning God, then spirituality is personally learning to receive and to live into God’s own revelation about himself.
For us, spirituality must remain absolutely God centered. It must remain personal participation in the divine life, that is, the life in a deeply personal relationship with the Christ, and his Father and the Holy Spirit.
In Orthodoxy the “things” that appear “religious” are “spirituality” and are akin to going to the spiritual “gym.” They are laid out not as a code of law, but as a common conventions that heal souls, uncloud spiritual eyes, and teach us to love, particularly someone other than ourself.
If you haven’t noticed “loving” oneself, is so easy we actually end up in ego-idolatry, which leads to “religion,” from atheistic religion to “God based” religion. We do not do the “stuff” to avoid abuse from God and thus to be counted as “saved.” This is a distortion and forms a lie about God.
Actually, being religious occurs when one does any thing (or nothing at all) with a spirit foreign to the spirit, for example, in legalism, selfishness, or for show or prestige. Being religious is also known “phariseeism.” We avoid this spirit like the plague.