Rev. Protopresbyter Nicolas Kazarian, Ph.D., is the Ecumenical Officer and Director of the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Inter-faith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and parish priest at St. Eleftherios Greek Orthodox Church in Manhattan.
When we speak about religion, we need to understand what we mean by it. Organized and established religions? Spirituality? Traditional faith? Belief systems? Etc. This diversity of perception and interpretation is a real challenge, even for us Orthodox. Is Orthodox Christianity a religion and a religion like any other? As you may know, the word “religion” comes from the Latin word religiare or religere which means to connect, to establish a relationship, either vertically between God and His creation, or horizontally in the bond that people share between each other, creating a sense of community that we would call ekklesia, church.
To answer the question more directly: not all religions lead to God, since the very idea of God, as we understand Him in the Christian faith, that is, as One Creator who nevertheless transcends all things, is not shared by all people of faith worldwide. Buddhism, for example, has no supreme being, whereas in Islam Muslims believe in a single almighty God. There is no consensus among religions about the idea of God, nor is there consensus about the way leading to the divine. In the Orthodox Church, we have a very original way of dealing with this question because the journey towards God is as important as crossing the finish line and meeting our Creator. God is present at every step of our spiritual journey. In the life of Saint Anthony the Great, the father of monks, St. Athanasius the Great has this beautiful expression to describe his life, “his journey in the way of virtue,” sustained by God’s grace and love.