Does Christianity have anything to offer Naturalistic Pantheists? While we in the West know a lot about Protestantism and Catholicism, very few of us are aware of the third big sect within Christianity – the Orthodox Church. So far on this blog, I have written about different spiritual philosophies including Buddhism, Philosophical Taoism, Druidry, Epicureanism and Stoicism. As part of this ongoing series, I shall explore a few things that Orthodox Christianity has to teach us.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Eastern Orthodox Church has an estimated 300 million adherants and can be found primarily in Eastern Europe. It claims to be the one true Church with its teachings going back to the first Apostles. It grew out of a schism with the Roman Catholic Church in 1054, known as the East-West Schism and while it shares many beliefs in common with the Catholic Church, it is distinct in certain theological ideas e.g. it doesn’t teach that Jesus died to appease God’s wrath and nor does it believe we are guilty of the sin of Adam and Eve. Instead it sees our primary need as healing rather than forgiveness, and views salvation as being a process rather than an event.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about the beliefs and practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church but I do want to touch upon two very interesting aspects of this Church that I think could offer something to us as Naturalistic Pantheists – their teaching on Salvation and their use of Icons.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, humans were originally created to “participate in the divine life” i.e. to live in communion with God. Humans are made in the image of God, but when they sin, this image is blurred and the communion between God and man is disrupted. To the Eastern Orthodox, the aim of Salvation is to come back into communion with God. It is a process, rather than an event (there’s no Protestant sinner’s prayer here). Salvation is a process of re-establishing communion with God and repairing the unity between the human and divine. The salvation process is called “deification” and happens through a variety of means – believing in God, partaking in the sacraments, following the moral laws of the Bible, repenting of sins, doing good works e.t.c. How does this apply to Naturalistic Pantheism? Well lets replace the word “God” with “Nature.” We are supposed to live in communion with nature, but we often disrupt that communion. When this happens, we need to re-establish our communion, our unity, with Nature. How can we do that? I believe thats the purpose of religious practice. Recently I read a definition of religion as “the cultivation of the soul.” To me, soul means simply our inner life, our character, personality, emotions, connection to others and the world around us e.t.c. When we engage in religious practices e.g. rituals, meditation, walking in nature, helping others, giving money to charity; we are cultivating our inner lives, changing ourselves into the people we wish to be, “saving ourselves”, building our connections with Nature and other people. So perhaps sometimes we need to go through a salvation process too.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The defining image of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the practice that sets it apart from other Churches, is the practice of venerating icons. If you walk into any Eastern Orthodox Church or Orthodox Christians home, you will see many small wooden rectangles decorated with images from the Bible. Bearing a strong resemblance to Greek Pagan images, the purpose of this religious art is to allow a person to connect to the reality of the person depicted. While worship of the image is strongly condemned, seeing the image as an archetype, and therefore using it to focus on the reality behind it, whether God or a saint, is encouraged. People often kneel before the icons, light candles and incense in front of them and kiss them during processions. Is there something we can learn here? Could pictures of nature, animals, trees, flowers and birds be our icons? Would having some pictures on our altars be useful in helping us to connect with nature. Would kneeling before them or kissing them help us to feel reverence for the natural world? I don’t know, but it’s worth trying to see what happens.