Dear Father Peter,
Without delay, I would like to finish with a last installment in response to your last post. That's something really, it took me three posts to respond to your one post.
Back to your Hindu friend who asked for your blessing and suggested that we all worship the same God. By way of review:
Quote:Now what does it mean that he asks an Orthodox priest for a blessing?
And what does the blessing mean?
Is the asking a genuine witness to his personal spiritual journey?
He was being himself, not just being polite. And if he was blessed would he receive a blessing from God, having asked?
What does this mean when a Hindu asks a blessing of an Orthodox priest?
This is not to say that all roads lead to God, or that Hinduism is the same as Christianity. But if a Hindu is truly seeking God then is he not on the same path in some sense?
Otherwise we could never begin to find God. We would have to be Orthodox Christians before we could become Orthodox Christians!
and, also from the last post, which I think has a direct bearing on this:
What troubles me so much is that these Eastern Orthodox correspondents have taken a particular proposition - God only gives grace in His Church - and then equated their own community with God's Church, and then rearranged all their experience of human love and kindness within marriage to enable them to say that none of the marriages they have ever seen outside Orthodoxy, even those of their parents, have God dwelling within them.
Yet when I look at the love between my parents in their marriage, and their devotion to Christ and to His service, I could never ever say that Christ was not a foundational presence in their marriage. Indeed it is a trusim in evangelicalism that marriage is between three people - the couple and God.
I suspect, you ran these two thought units together because they really are parallel thoughts on different planes. The love that you see in you parents in their marriage and their devotion to Christ, parallels the love that I see in the lives of many Indians in my neck of the woods and their devotion to God.
And, the 'mindset' of those of which you speak (viz. God gives grace in His church alone) sounds almost like some sort of doctrine of "The Church Alone" or a type of Orthodox sola. All these things are clearly related of which you have written. And, we want to be consistent in what we are saying as much as we can, don't we? As you also wrote, Father:
"How do we understand these two propositions? It seems to me that either one on its own is wrong. We must say both - Orthodoxy is the Church and the Church is where God gives grace AND we see that God gives grace where He wills and He blesses those outside the Orthodox Church."
I agree that it is not an either/or, neither/nor proposition; but, a both/and situation just as you have suggested, and yes, we "must" say both in order to avoid a cultlike methodology and the "blindness" of which you speak to God's gracious activity in His world.
And, to steer towards some sort of conclusion here, with the above post of mine that answers many of the above questions with what I hope you don't think is a non-answer, namely 'there is no one right answer,' I think if one can answer the following question of yours then one has answered all the questions as it relates to the Hindu shopkeeper, and any other that we might meet:
Quote:. . . I think of the Hindu shopkeeper. Is he on a journey towards God? But he is a Hindu. And if he is a Hindu on a journey towards God then does God bless him and give him grace? But he is outside the visible bounds of the Orthodox Church.
Because, this is ultimately what matters, is one on a journey towards God? Regardless, of whether one is a professing Hindu, Orthodox Christian, Baptist, Buddhist, Plymouth Brethren, or whatever . . . the list goes on and on and on and on . . . it just doesn't matter what one professes. The Orthodox Christian who sits in the liturgy each Sunday can be can be headed for hell just as fast and sure as the Hindu man who has no temple to worship in, or the Hebrew who does, and again on it goes . . . What matters not so much is what path is one on now, but how do these paths interconnect and what is the ultimate destination? I know Hindu's, Baptists, Buddhists, and even a Plymouth Brethren who have become Orthodox (some even Orthodox clergy).
But, here as with so many other aspects of one's spiritual journey, one's own personal history is the question, "Who determines who is on the right path or the wrong path AT ANY GIVEN POINT IN ONE'S LIFE?"
See Father, in an effort to be clear here, as I know you are aware, there are some who say that we are all climbing the same mountain in our journey to God. The point here is that the Hindu, the Orthodox Christian, the Baptist, the Buddhist, the Plymouth Brethren, and so on are all scaling the same mountain towards the same God, but from different sides of the mountain--different paths, but same mountain, same destination/goal.
I am not one of these people. I am convinced from my studies (especially in comparative religion) that we are definitely not all climbing the same mountain in this sense. It is clear to me in short order that many of us to stand on different shores.
But, what happens to this way of thinking/knowing and being when I look into the eyes of some like the Hindu shop keeper that you speak of, or into the eyes of some like your parents? Possibly, I would see the love that you speak of in you parents if this were possible, as well, if the Hindu shopkeeper is like the Hindus I know in Cincinnati, he is very humble and kind and likeable, he is soft spoken and caring and beams with varying degrees of what seems to be a genuine love for man and God. So what does this do to my way of knowing and being when we are face-to-face with those that are only discussed from afar, and in theory on electronic discussion boards?
It does nothing to my way of knowing/being. Nothing is changed, we are not climbing the same mountain. Many of us are climbing different mountains. Period. And, this is not an introverted and selfish or separatist/isolationist or cultlike mindset in my mind, but just the opposite in many ways.
But, let's keep going with this . . . so much for the above mentioned conclusion. So with this belief in place in myself, what do I do when I meet a Hindu shopkeeper, who seems sincere, who tells me we are all worshipping the same God? Especially, if this is the first time this subject has been broached with this person, I would tell him/her that we DEFINITELY DO NOT WORSHIP THE SAME GOD, and that he/she worships Satan and that if they do not do exactly what I am doing and join the TRUE CHURCH of the one living Holy Triune God, the Creator of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which is made up of only those who have signed up to the propositions laid down in Chalcedon, then you are headed for a fiery eternity in Hell my friend! I would tell him/her that . . . no, wait a minute, I wouldn't do that at all, that would absurd wouldn't it?
There is no wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove missiology in that approach is there? There's not much room for love in that response is there?
But, I don't need to provide a hypothetical example here, because I have a friend in Cincinnati who is an Indian man who has a statue of Krishna on his TV in his living room. And, next to this statue of Krishna he has a statue of Christ. This man came over on the boat from India. He is one of the most loving, kind, and gentle men I have ever met. He really has a healing touch in many ways. As far as he is concerned he and I both worship the same God. I remember once when he asked me a question in front of a group in a seminar situation that he was leading about a passage from Paramhansa Yoganannda. He kind of put me on the spot, asking what I thought about a specific comment by Yoganannada. I told him that I didn't think he wanted to know what I thought about this, and we all laughed. And, I went on to answer the question in a loving way, that was non-offensive, and in a way that still allowed and further promoted the language of Love to be spoken.
To me this is the key and the non-negotiable aspect of a situation like this. We are not dealing with a viper such as the Pharasee that Jesus dealt with when he walked the earth, when we speak of my Indian friend (and I suspect not your shopkeeper friend either). We are interacting with a different sort. It can be said, that this sort is at the opposite end of a continuum that would have our Indian friends on one side and our cultlike or taliban like Orthodox friends spoken of above on the other side . . . and we would have to allow some room for this . . but, still we are dealing with humble and seemingly loving gentle seekers where there is the opportunity to speak the language of love (as opposed to the language of legalism and particularism).
And, one more huge distinction here I think Father. One more important point I think in this . . .which is for those of us who do ultimately subscribe to a "Theology of Hope," with our Indian friends for example, this is EXACTLY how we can not allow ourselves to be used as a tool of Satan and be an instrument in the life or our Indian friends (or any friends who have not been completely overwhelmed), instead of standing up and citing canons and saying turn or burn, we can express our heartfelt and genuine/authentic hope that although we are not all climbing the same mountain, hopefully we are all on the same mountain range (connected subterraneously).
This way of knowing, if it is genuinely held, is I think also a helpful answer to us when we are not only talking on an electronic forum like we are now,but as well, when we are looking into the eyes of our Indian friends and our parents who just might not be Chalcedonian Orthodox Christians. Think about this please. If this position is honestly held, then we are not hiding anything from our friends. Over time they will come to see that we honestly do not believe that we are climbing the same mountain, but that we hope that we are all climbing the same mountain range. This way there can still be open/honest and loving dialogue instead of division,envy, and strife . . .
What a great thing if you think about it! There is nothing contrived about this at all . . . it is a genuine loving outreach/mission which relies on the sovereignty of God alone, and nothing else. Yes, there's a sola for you--God alone. We know there is a cooperation and a mutual embrace that must take place between a man/woman and God, but as it relates to this topic, one's spiritual pilgrimage, what a Beautiful and burden lifting teaching to understand this.
So "in conclusion" when is mumbling something and then walking out the door THE most godly and effective type of Christian witness? I would like to suggest that when the mumbler is mumbling the mysterious, language of Love, it is always a thing of Beauty and a great display of humility and wisdom, and in this sense a model of Christian witness (even if it doesn't seem like it at the time).
This can be a maddening thing Father, after more than a small amout of struggle/grief for me, I could only find an answer in the firm knowledge that there is no one right answer for the one who would proclaim the kerygma of Christ. And, lest one of us is omniscient and knows what is best for any given individual at every stage of that individual's life, then for the now (and the later), as it relates to the Indian shopkeeper, what can we hold but a theology of Hope, how can we speak but in the language of Love?