In this episode of Journeys to Orthodoxy, Christy Pessemier interviews Fr. Seraphim Majmudar, who was raised Hindu, converted to Orthodoxy, and is now an Orthodox priest serving at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Tacoma, WA.
Fr. Seraphim tells the story of how a trip to India in his youth began to make him question the Hindu faith of his childhood. When he saw the deep poverty, he was drawn to search out answers to why there is suffering and poverty in the world. Eastern religions stress that suffering is an illusion, a belief that Fr. Seraphim could no longer accept.
When eventually confronted with the person of Jesus, Fr. Seraphim came to realize that he had to make a decision about who this Jesus was. He recounts how, when he asked God to give him a sign as to what path he should follow, he found a surprising and glorious response.
The ultimate goal is theosis – an even closer union with God and closer likeness to God than existed in the Garden of Eden. This process is called Deification or “God became man that man might become ‘god’”.
However, it must be emphasized that Orthodox Christians do not believe that man becomes God in His essence, or a god in his own nature.
More accurately, Christ’s salvific work enables man in his human nature to become “partakers of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4); that is to say, man is united to God in Christ.
The death of Jesus can be seen as either the atonement for man’s fallen nature or our at-one-ment with our divine nature. Unity chooses to see the positive side of it. As it says in Galatians, it is no longer I that lives but the Christ that lives in me.
In this era of religious pluralism, the question often arises: Is it possible to be Christian and still honor all paths to God? Doesn’t it have to be one way or the other?
If you follow the teachings of Jesus, rather than the teachings about Jesus, the answer appears to be yes.
If you study what Jesus taught and did, you see that he was, in the words of Bible scholar Marcus Borg, “radically inclusive.” He said to love one another, and he exemplified that by honoring and caring about people of all backgrounds.
Spiritual leaders through the ages have asserted that Jesus was not just the example and advocate for Christians, but for everyone.
Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, once said: “Jesus gave humanity the magnificent purpose and the single objective toward which we all ought to aspire. I believe that he belongs not solely to Christianity, but to the entire world, to all lands and races.”
(Gandhi also said, “If Jesus came to earth again, he would disown many things that are being done in the name of Christianity.”)
But the risen Jesus is not in this sense a physical/bodily reality. The resurrection stories in the New Testament make that clear.
The risen Jesus appears in a locked room (John 20). He journeys with two of his followers for a couple of hours and is not recognized – and when he is recognized, he vanishes (Luke 24). He appears in both Jerusalem (Luke and John) and Galilee (Matthew and John). He appears to Stephen in his dying moments (Acts 7). He appears to Paul in or near Damascus as a brilliant light (Acts 9). He appears to the author of Revelation on an island off the coast of Turkey in the late 90s of the first century (Rev. 1).
These texts are not about Jesus being restored to his previous life as a physical being. If such events happen, they are resuscitations: resuscitated persons resume the finite physical life they had before, and will die again someday. Whatever affirming the resurrection of Jesus means, it does not mean this.
Moreover, what would it mean to say that the risen Jesus is a physical/bodily reality? That he continues to be a molecular, protoplasmic, corpuscular being existing somewhere? Does that make any sense? How can the risen and living Jesus be all around us and with us, present everywhere, if he is bodily and physical?
Bible – Unity’s founders, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, considered the Bible to be history and allegory. Their interpretation of Scripture was that it is “a metaphysical representation of humankind’s evolutionary journey toward spiritual awakening.” While Unity calls the Bible its “basic textbook,” it also says it “honors the universal truths in all religions and respects each individual’s right to choose a spiritual path.”
God – “God is the one power, all good, everywhere present, all wisdom.” Unity speaks of God as Life, Light, Love, Substance, Principle, Law and Universal Mind.
Heaven, Hell – In Unity, heaven and hell are states of mind, not places. “We make our heaven or hell here and now by our thoughts, words and deeds,” Unity says.
Jesus Christ – Jesus is a master teacher of universal truths and the Way-Shower in Unity teachings. “Unity teaches that the spirit of God lived in Jesus, just as it lives in every person.” Jesus expressed his divine potential and showed others how to express their divinity, which Unity calls (the) Christ.
The Gnostic Gospels is a landmark study of the long-buried roots of Christianity, a work of luminous scholarship and wide popular appeal… It is now widely recognized as one of the most brilliant and accessible histories of early Christian spirituality published in our time…
Some Christians questioned the need for clergy and church doctrine, and taught that the divine could be discovered through spiritual search. Many others, like Buddhists and Hindus, sought enlightenment — and access to God — within.
Such explorations raised questions: Was the resurrection to be understood symbolically and not literally? Was God to be envisioned only in masculine form, or feminine as well? Was martyrdom a necessary — or worthy — expression of faith? These early Christians dared to ask questions that orthodox Christians later suppressed — and their explorations led to profoundly different visions of Jesus and his message.