Written By: Samantha Woolman
Issue: Set to Appear in the September Issue of the Newsletter
There are numerous religions practiced throughout the world. And within these numerous religions there are many differences. It is these contrasts in practice, belief, and reasoning that are often focused on and discussed among people and communities. Although there is nothing incorrect about comparing religions to find differences, I recently encountered several situations where I compared various religious communities and arrived at a rather unexpected conclusion: there are some strong similarities among religions. And not just minute physical resemblances such as the colors with which worship spaces are decorated – sometimes the theological doctrines are close enough to cause one to stop and think for a moment.
Earlier this summer, I participated in a religion camp where I visited various religious communities, observed their routine services, and learned about their beliefs and practices. I studied the Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Buddist, Hindu, and Christian religions. As I visited each temple, synagogue, mosque, and church, I was surprised to note how they resembled one another. Specifically, I was fascinated by how they resembled Orthodoxy, even in unexpected ways. It was as if religion, as a separate entity, was a piece of fabric made up of many colors. The colors flowed gradually from red to pink to purple to blue to green. The differences and similarities among the religions were like the threads making up the fabric – each running through the entire length of cloth, but changing color over time. The changing of color portrays the distinctions from denomination to denomination, from sect to sect. The functional and decorative use of gold and other metals within Orthodoxy may be used as an example. If the use of gold and other metals is a red thread running from Orthodoxy to Catholicism, Zen Buddhism, and Judaism, the color of red is likely to stay a similar shade. The red thread fades in color to pink for some Protestant denominations of Christianity when those Protestant churches no longer decorate their churches so ornately. A blue thread symbolizing the use of vibrant and sometimes gaudy colors darkens its shade, however, in Protestant churches such as in the Methodist and some Episcopal denominations. This thread continues in Tibetan Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism. The use of images, musical instruments, theological doctrines, and religious practices are only a minute number of other “threads” among religions.
I adored learning about the religions and corresponding cultures, and visiting with the people who were so very eager to share their religion with me. Although it saddened me to see their separation from the Church, I was able to observe the beauty in both the physical and doctrinal aspects of their faiths. I think this is one of the most important things to be remembered while studying other cultures and religions. Being able to recognize and acknowledge beauty and truth in other religions leads to understanding not only of that religion, but of your own faith. If God Himself is Truth, Beauty, and Goodness (things all humans are drawn to), we should recognize that anything true, beautiful, and good in any given place is somehow connected to God. An interesting teaching of the Sikhs is that they see all types of religion as a medium to God. I believe this way of thinking is compatible with the saints that have taught that people are not easily converted to Christianity through harsh words, threats, and intimidation. I’ve spoken to many people who are not Christians, and have seen several become enthusiastic about Orthodox Christianity. This did not happen by way of me attempting to convert them; it occurred because I attempted to answer their questions or offered to explain something they were curious about. A genuine interest must first be gained. St. Paisios says “Kindness softens and opens up the heart, as oil opens a rusty lock.” Of course I want every person to become Christian and come home to the Church. But who am I to speak of the state of another’s soul? You don’t have to accept the beliefs of other religions, but recognizing and accepting that humans are humans and all are searching for the same true, good, and beautiful things assists in seeing their religion from their own perspective. My experience taught me much about other religions, but most of all it taught me how to better defend strongly my own faith and uphold its Truth.