Before start talking about Christianity and religion, we need to say briefly about concept of "religion" itself, because during debates, interlocutors often means by "religion" are completely different phenomena.

Before the Middle Ages, the term "religion" had a very narrow meaning, and denoted godliness, piety, worship of God or something like that[1]. Term “religion” was used only for concrete ideas and related practices. But so far no one has correctly formulated the unifying principle, which makes "religious" system of ideas and practices (belief in supernatural, "ultimate concern" of a person or something else?). Always there are any historical examples that do not fit the theory, and definition of religion.

Wide and universal meaning of the term "religion" began to spread only from the XVIII century, when the ideology of the God-fighting atheism matured in European culture[2]. The term "religion" was needed as an abstraction, denoting everything that is opposite to atheism. But this term is very unfortunate precisely because of its abstractness, as an abstract "religion" does not exist. More or less correctly, we can speak only about a particular historical "religion", about its context and its specific individual characteristics.

To solve the problem of defining religion, we propose the following reasoning. Any idea in the field of ideology, social relations and culture usually materialized and outwardly expressed externally by any ceremonies, rites and rituals. Usually, these ceremonies and rituals follow their idea in case of its evolution, but sometimes they can also break away from it, confined to themselves. Thus, the formation of the conditional "body" of religion occurs in a similar way to the formation of state, national and cultural traditions because the action of the same laws of psychology.

For example, Byzantine Emperors during any events were always escorted by warriors-spearman (Doriphores). In fact, it was not guard, but an honorary escort as an expression of highest honor. The Christian concept of God, as the Heavenly King, has been expressed through similar symbols. For example, at the Liturgy in the Cherubic hymn[3], depicted the image of God — the Universal King, surrounded by the angelic ranks of the Doriphores. The Bible does not say anything about any Doriforah angels, but this metaphor entered the Christian worship service from the Byzantine court ceremonial.

Over time, these external expressions of ideas can vary. In our time there are no more warriors-spearman, but the giving of the highest honor to especially significant persons is still expressed through honorable escort. The Pope has a Swiss guard, the presidential motorcade accompanies an honorable escort of motorcyclists.

Thus, the conditional "body" of religion — its expression in the social and cultural sphere, is formed by the same psychological laws as non-religious phenomena, such as art. Therefore, one can find parallels and analogies of religious phenomena with non-religious ones, and this will facilitate understanding of the processes taking place in any historical religion.

Also we should take into consideration the fact that, for various reasons, other ideas, parasitic and even opposing, can mix with the main idea and co-exist in parallel with it. For example, the purpose of art — the art itself. If the artist starts thinking about commerce, he loses his inspiration and sense of beauty[4]. Likewise, in Christianity, some of the fundamental ideas are non-possessiveness and humility: "you cannot serve God and mammon", "freely you have received, freely give", "but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister" (Mt. 6:24; 10:8; 20:26) etc. But historical Christianity gives many examples when Christians were entirely absorbed in a thirst for power and wealth.

What's going on? Why are Christians often live quite differently, from how the Holy Scripture teaches them? By the way, the same thing can be said about Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. This question is sometimes asked by atheists, but most of all it worries the believers themselves.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (Bloom) tells on this subject a very remarkable case. Once, he spent three days of talks on the spiritual life for a group of students who were to be ordained in the Anglican Church. At the final meeting, one of the students on behalf of others asked: “How can we find again the faith that led us to the theological school, and which the theological school destroyed?” That is the situation. That’s the edge of the sword! And this is a key question for the future of modern Christianity!

 Darwin and Stalin both staded in seminary to become priest but the ecclesiastical educational institution has undermined faith in them, and they became the God-fighters. Such examples are so numerous that it is impossible to attribute all this only to particular cases and exceptions. At the end of XIX – early XX century in Russia was a flowering of theology: many achievements of the church science remain unsurpassed until now. However, four Theological Academies and hundreds of Seminaries destroyed faith in many of their graduates. The atheistic Revolution of 1917 would have been impossible without the active support by graduates of religious educational institutions.

In the Bible, some regions, countries and nations are sometimes characterized as if it were one person. Using the same metaphor, one can ask the cardinal question of the Anglican student already on the scale of the whole Europe: ”How can Europe revive that faith, for the better understanding of which Christians for one and a half thousand years created theology and founded theological schools? Why did these theological schools destroy faith and lead Europe to atheism?” Where was the mine of the delayed action hidden? Maybe the reason is that the Greek theologians have tried to present the Revelation in the language of ancient philosophy? Or the reason is in Western scholasticism, also use the logic of Aristotle?

In fact, countries with "young" Christianity, such as Ghana or Samoa, differ in sincerity and liveliness of faith. There is no crisis of faith and all the more atheism at all. At the same time in Europe, with its two thousand-year-old Christian history, atheism dominates.

Most likely, the reason of this is mainly not in theology and not only in turning Christianity into a religion, but in betraying the fundamental principles of Christianity. Very often the attention of Christians was focused on ethics and moral perfection: how to become better, more just, fairer, temperate and kinder. But all this is not that great purpose for which God created man. The main message of Christianity is that God became the Son of man so that man could become the son of God. Various st. fathers have formulated this idea little differently, but the meaning is precisely this[5]. That is, the Creator, being God ontologically, calls man to become a god by grace. Man was created in God's image and likeness (Gen 1:26) in order to achieve not only a moral, but also a personal relationship with his Creator.

Therefore, the central nerve of the Christian life is the sense of God and living relationship with Him[6]. Literally about the "feel" (ψηλάφηση) of the God the Apostle Paul preached[7] (Acts 17:27).

Although one can feel God also outside the religious context, but the elements of religion are either immediately follow, or are present as a background, a prerequisite. For example, in the life of the Catholic priest saint Curé of Ars[8] tells such case. Coming to his village church, he found there an old man who was siting for hours apparently without even praying. And somehow the priest asked the him: “What are you doing here, sitting in the church for hours? I noticed that your lips do not move in prayer, and your fingers do not run on the rosary, you just sit and look straight ahead. Explain to me what's going on?” And the old man answered with a smile: “I look at Him, He looks at me - and we are so well with each other!”

Another typical example is given by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. Once in the temple came a man to give a parcel to one of the parishioners. He was a convinced atheist and wanted to come after the service, but he came too early. After the service he stayed asked the priest: “What happens in your temple? I came here knowing that there is no God, knowing that all this is fiction. But I stayed part of the service, and something struck me. Does it flicker of candles, singing, or something else?” The priest answered him: “If you were a believer, I would say that this is God's presence. But if you know that there is no God, I can say nothing“. Then he thought and said: “May I come somehow, when in this temple there will be no one, including you, so that nothing will influence me? I want to be alone, to look and smell, is there anything here or just emptiness, empty space?“ He came several times and then said: “I do not know whether God exists, but I know for sure that there is something here, because when I'm alone in the temple, I feel some unintelligible presence for me, an incomprehensible presence”. This unbelieving person was able to feel what often do not feel believers which attend worship services regularly.[9]

On the one hand, both the believing peasant and the atheist could feel God in an empty church. Worship, and religious education, and theology, and rites they would only prevent. On the other hand, they felt God in a temple, and not in a museum, theater or university. Due to theology and the liturgical tradition, this temple arose as a meeting place with God. Divine services became that background, a prerequisite, thanks to which it became possible to feel God's presence in the silence of an empty church.

All these examples show that Christianity is not the same as religion, but when you try to separate one from another there is a risk to lose something essential, important. However, the revision of historical Christianity is necessary for the sake of purification from all superfluous, extraneous, and alien to it. The bottom of the ships acquires mollusks, which increase the ship's friction against water. Because of this, the ship loses speed and in vain spends fuel. In addition, fouling in large quantities weighs the ship[10] and increases its draft. Therefore, periodically ship is placed in dock, scratched, scrape, clean the bottom and color. Something similar is required for Christianity.

For example, in the Greek Orthodox Church, the revision of liturgical texts is long overdue. Often parishioners do not fully understand what they hear in worship, because of the archaic language. Some people like this situation, and they make their misunderstanding even sacred. And they are quite happy in their ignorance. If we translate and explain the meaning of these texts, Christians will be horrified and make the sad discovery: for two thousand years the ship of the Church has acquired not only a huge amount of ballast, but in this ballast is also a lot of things heretical and alien to Christianity.

For example, many chants of the Byzantine era contain prayers for granting victory to the Emperor over the barbarians. Under the barbarians, the Byzantines understood all foreigners, including the Slavs. And Byzantium had wars many times with the Slavs, Orthodox Christians fought with Orthodox Christians. This is completely contrary to the Gospel. And then, the Byzantine Empire has been gone for almost six centuries, so there is no point in praying for a non-existent Emperor. However, in Greece these chants have been mummified and repeat in our days in their unchanged form.

In addition, almost all church hymns are written by monks. And this leaves an imprint on the way in which the hymns were written, to what saints preferences are given and what kind of relationship they preach. But the main problem is that a significant part of monasticism was influenced by the ideas of Neoplatonism and Origenism. Therefore, church hymns emphasize the origenistic Ecclesiology[11]. Repeatedly the church councils condemned Origen, but his doctrine teaching in varying degrees revived in monasticism again and again.

In conclusion, let us say again that the central “nerve” of Christianity is the feeling of God's presence. It depends not on education, not on theoretical knowledge, or even on the number of prayers, but as a man revealed to God. The religious component in Christianity can be both beneficial or harmful. Therefore, every religious part can be considered separately.

The original idea of this report was to give illustrations from the Old and New Testaments that some religious rules, rites and rituals can come in conflict with the will of God and the purpose of the Christian life. Thus, it was planned to confirm the theses “Christ is the End of Religion”, “Christianity is not a religion”, “Christianity is a trial of religion” and develop the ideas of Karl Barth, Thomas Merton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other theologians of the 20th century. However, with a more detailed study of the theme it became clear that such an approach involves the risk of discarding something essential and important in Christianity.


[1] For example, Acts 17:22.

[2] In other words, the abstract concept of "religion" was created by atheists of the XVIII century to identify themselves. Therefore, the term "religion" is so inaccurate and alien to people who believe in God. In Christianity, Islam and Judaism instead of the concepts "religious" / "irreligious" always used the concept of "faithful" / " unfaithful " (in relation to God).

[3] Χερουβικὸς ὕμνος, greek text: Οἱ τὰ Χερουβεὶμ μυστικῶς εἰκονίζοντες, καὶ τῇ ζωοποιῷ Τριάδι τὸν τρισάγιον ὕμνον προσᾴδοντες, πᾶσαν τὴν βιοτικὴν ἀποθώμεθα μέριμναν, ὡς τὸν Βασιλέα τῶν ὅλων ὑποδεξόμενοι, ταῖς ἀγγελικαῖς ἀοράτως δορυφορούμενον τάξεσιν. Ἀλληλούϊα. Ἀλληλούϊα. Ἀλληλούϊα.

[4] Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin , whose works now have a price of about $ 100 million for the painting, lived in poverty and barely made ends meet. Also Rembrandt, in the music the brilliant Mozart and others geniuses lived in poverty, while the less talented were much better off.

[5] See: Irenaeus of Lyons (Adversus haereses, III, 10, 2 and in Prologue of the fifth chapter); St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Contra Arianos I, 39). Approximately the same thing was said by Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian.

[6] See: Скабалланович М. «Что мы ждем от обновленных монастырей?», Свободное слово христианина 1 (1918), 20.

[7]Ζητεῖν τὸν Κύριον, εἰ ἄρα γε ψηλαφήσειαν αὐτὸν καὶ εὕροιεν, καί γε οὐ μακρὰν ἀπὸ ἑνὸς ἑκάστου ἡμῶν ὑπάρχοντα (Πράξ. 17,27).

[8] Saint Curé d’Ars (1786–1869). French priest, patron of parish priests and confessors.

[9] See: Митрополит Сурожский Антоний (Блум). Труды. Книга первая. — 2-е изд. — М., «Практика», 2012, с. 821–822.

[10] For a large ship, an additional harmful cargo can be several hundred tons.

[11] For more information, see: Иоанн (Зизиулас), митрополит Пергамский. Церковь как икона Царствия Божия. Лекции по Экклесиологии / Пер. с греч. К. Г. Волкодав. — Киев: Богуславкнига, 2013, с. 62–63.