A Definition of Religion and the Distinction Between Religion and Morality

Religious consciousness is differentiated from religion in the same way that the sensations of hunger and thirst are distinguished from bread and water. The confusion of it with religion is the product of ignorance, and leads to error because it identifies its distinct and separate existence with religion. If we cannot regard bread and water as identical with hunger and thirst, how can it be logical and correct to identify religion with religious consciousness?

Religion is something objective. Religious feeling is something subjective. Religion has its origin in God. Religious feeling has its origin in man. Not every religion can satisfy religious feeling. The only one that does so is the true religion which has its source in the true God, and which possesses the true object to satisfy man’s religious consciousness. What, then, is the true religion?

Religion has a certain affinity with medical science and the art of healing the body. It lies in this – as medicine cures the body by means of drugs, so religion heals the diseases of the soul by means of its spiritual medicines. God, who gave us medical science and the art of healing for the maladies of the body, could not have withheld the healing science for the cure of the sins of the soul. Those who deny religion deny the most important science of the soul, although they admit its unhealthy state. He who gives the lesser could not have withheld the greater. He who cures the diseases of the less important part of man by the art of healing, could not have overlooked the diseases of the more important part, and not have given religion to man. Those who hold the opposite opinion and voice it, insult God, for they make Him provident in unimportant matters and improvident in important matters.

Let us ask a question of those who deny the existence of religion and think it unnecessary in human life-why do they admit the necessity for medical science? Is it not because they admit that sick bodies exist? But if unhealthy bodies did not exist, would medical science have been able to acquire and to keep any reality or substance? If, from the existence of unhealthy bodies. it is conceded that the existence of medical science is

necessary, why, then, is religion not accepted as being necessary, when sinful souls exist? The same relation that medical science bears to diseased bodies, religion bears to souls diseased by sin. We then have the following ratio among these four comparable terms:

Medicine : body = Religion : soul

Anyone who admits the existence of a diseased body and of a sinful soul, logically cannot deny the necessity for both medical and religious sciences, for the one cures the body and the other the soul. If religion has been understood in this way by the comparison with medicine, the knowledge, by definition, of its nature and purpose, now becomes easy. From man’s point of view, religion is defined as a feeling, as a desire of the soul for reconciliation, salvation, and sanctification. From God’s view, from whom it originates, it is defined as a beneficent will, glad to reconcile sinful man with sinless God, to save and sanctify man, and to have mercy and give him remission of his sins:

Considering its nature and its purpose, religion also may be defined as the knowledge of religious laws by which the soul is reconciled with God and regains His friendship, and by which it is saved and sanctified. This definition is peculiar to religion, because no other skill or knowledge undertakes to reconcile the sinner with God, to save him from the eternal death that is caused by sin, and to sanctify h!m.

Because religion is like this and its work is the task of saving, why is it wrong to love and honor it, and with its help, to cure our soul’s diseases? Why is it wrong and improper to give up all for religion, when it opens for us the way to the loving arms of Heaven and reconciles us with the God of peace, when it saves us from everlasting punishment and condemnation, and provides us with abundant grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit?

True religion is the door to civilization; it is the door to paradise. True religion is the key to the kingdom of Heaven. Those who have no religion and do not avail themselves of its work of salvation, know nothing of the door to civilization or of the door to paradise, and walk without hope. If the soul confesses that it is sinful in transgressing the moral law, it admits also that it cannot be cured without religion, since its work is the healing of souls. The soul which is diseased and has not sought its healing through religion, is a soul lacking in reverence for God, for it despises His work and consequently deserves eternal punishment. If those who despise doctors and medical science when they are ill, die in their disobedience to the laws of that science, why should those who despise religion and its true priests and refuse to obey the laws of religion, not die an eternal death?

Fools! They have understood religion as a thing of human invention and work, and for this reason have assumed it to be human legends, sufficient to restrain the disorderly violence of the mob. From this arises all the talk that religion is for the ordinary people and not for those who appear to be wise and learned, and that it is right and proper for it to exist as a curb on human passions. Ordinary folk believe in religion as in the truth. The “wise” do not believe in it, for they regard it as an invention of the man and not as a work of God.

If those who seem wise are asked why they consider religion necessary for the masses, but not for themselves as well, what can they say? Perhaps that only the masses are sinful, but that they themselves are sinless? But if they also are sinners, as everyone else, does it not follow that they too have need of religion? Indeed, we declare that those who say that they have no need of religion are the sinners, rather than the masses despised by them as sinful, and for whom they consider the existence of religion necessary.

Egotism is the greatest of vices. It is the very foundation stone of vice. Egotists love everything that ministers to their egotism. Because the Christian faith is hostile to their egotism, in that it puts them on a level with those whom they disdain – as they call them, the masses – they do not consider it necessary for themselves, though they consider it necessary for the masses. This is exactly what the pharisee did, for when he prayed to God, he considered that he was justified by his wisdom and his actions, and despised the tax collector who was praying at the same time, as an extortioner, adulterer, and thief (Luke 18:9-14).

However, the tax collector did exactly the opposite, for he humbled himself before God and cried with a contrite heart, “God, be merciful unto me a sinner.” Hence the tax collector was justified, while – because of his arrogance and pride – the haughty pharisee was convicted. God does not justify man because of his actions, for no one can boast that he has observed the commands of the moral law. God does, however, justify man through faith in the healing and saving work of God on his behalf, and because of man’s confession of his sin, and sincere repentance.

Obviously, the egotists do not like religion, for it opposes egotism such as that of the pharisee. It proclaims the equality of all in its sight, and it teaches that all are sinners and are guilty before the righteousness of God-rich and poor, small and great, kings and subjects, wise and simple, and that all need repentance. Therefore, religion is judged by them to be unsuitable for themselves, but perfectly right for the masses whose wild passions it curbs.

Religion, which has been defined as the knowledge of the religious laws by which the soul is reconciled with God and becomes again His friend, and by which it is saved and sanctified, is distinct from all other. branches of knowledge and even from ethics, although some people quite illogically identify it with the study of morals. Religion is differentiated from morality by its purpose, its nature, and the work it undertakes. Religion is the science of healing the diseases of the soul.

Morality is the science of perfecting the soul by the full development of the moral virtues. The purpose of religion is the reconciliation of sinful man with sinless God, his salvation from eternal death, and his sanctification and redemption through Jesus Christ. The purpose of morality, however, is the happiness and bliss of man; it is the perfection of man, as Christ said: ”Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

It is the nature of religion to reconcile, save, and sanctify the soul through a mediator, a saviour, and sacred person, capable of conferring sanctification and grace on the souls of sinners. But it is the nature of morality to perfect the soul with the aid of virtues and moral actions, of moral laws and a moral lawgiver, a perfect being – such a one is God, who gives us the moral law, the perfect law, through His Son and Logos, our saviour. But in addition to this, the soul, from its religious side, earnestly desires reconciliation and friendship with God and longs for salvation and sanctification, while from its moral side, it longs for the joyous outcome of the bliss and happiness which are the supreme goal of man’s moral nature, and for which it aims.

Morality is older than religion in that religion supervened after the transgression of the moral law. Newly created man, who came_pure and spotless from the hands of God, proceeded to act according to His word in the observance and application of the moral law. He had no need for religion at that stage, nor had he in himself the religious consciousness which came into existence in his soul after the transgression of the moral law, when he became a sinner. Now, when every man is born by nature sinful and therefore mortal, he is born also with the religious consciousness in his soul by nature, because he knows himself to be a transgressor of the moral law, and he has need of religion in order to be reconciled with God, to be saved from imminent spiritual danger, and to be sanctified and receive remission of sins.

After newly created man transgressed the moral law, every man was born with a natural, innate need – firstly, to have a religion, and secondly, to be made perfect in virtue. This is because by nature there comes in the soul first the compelling desire for salvation, and then there follows also a similar urge for perfection. Religion commands us to “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Morality gives the command: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

If faith in Christ as our saviour had not come first, and repentance, it would have been impossible by nature for the perfection of the soul to follow. Consequently, true religion is now the forerunner of true morality, for if religion had not led the way, and had not cleansed the soul through the religious laws in which it is skilled, it would be impossible to arrive at morality, because by nature the successful attainment of it is impossible. Those who despise true religion, despise the forerunner of morality, and remain in a state of immorality because they imagine their egos to comprise morality.

It is exactly for this reason that both communities of an­tiquity and those of the present time have failed to order their affairs in obedience to the precepts of morality, and have sunk so deeply into corruption, social depravity, and dissolute living. In order that the standard of society may be raised to perfection by morality, which takes substance in the soul aft.er its reconciliation with God, it should place the religious laws into practice. Then it should entreat from God a holy clergy, untainted with the sin of simony,* but devout and virtuous, by which society may be reconciled with God.

Finally, society should repent, and with fervent tears should beseech the great mercy of God, mercy poured out freely upon man through Jesus Christ, who is the potential saviour of all men, but the actual saviour of only the faithful. The Greek nation prides itself because it possesses the true religion of Christ, the apostolic Orthodox Church, but Greece too cannot boast that it orders its affairs in obedience to its Church.

Let us note carefully: For as long as we fail to order our affairs according to the God-given commandments of true religion, we cannot discharge our moral obligations, or evolve as a community, or perform deeds worthy of our destiny. We should seek to live first as a truly Christian and religious people, in order to live both as moral beings and as members of a community, for the very foundation stone of moral and corporate living is to live in obedience to true religion.

This is why we first ought to live religiously, so that we may live both morally and socially, for the foundation of living morally and socially is to live religiously. This is why we must fulfill true religion, and then live and prevail socially, as a truly glorious nation.

* Simony is the uncanonical crime of buying or selling ecclesiastical offices. Apostolos Makrakis struggled valiantly against this crime introduced during the Turkish tyranny. Rather than repent for their sins, the simoniacs falsely sought to label Makrakis as a heretic.

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