Those laws which regulate our behavior toward God, both inwardly and outwardly, are called religious laws, for it is on the exact keeping and application of them that the practice of godliness, as well as its acquisition, depends, because godliness is a purely religious virtue. Their origins lie in the highpriestly nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, because Christ, as our great, unique high priest, being holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from the sinners of the world, and exalted above the heavens, decreed religious laws which prescribe and regulate our religious pilgrimage.
By these laws our atonement is achieved, and we are reconciled with God from whom sin separates us. The religious laws exist today for they have been handed down in the Church, which has kept them and guarded them carefully, and applied them in her religious life. These ordinances regulate the general activity of the Church and make rules for her religious lite, and their authority applies equally to all – clergy and laity, men and women, great and small.
We all require religious laws because we all need purification and salvation for our souls. We all are born in sin; therefore, we all need the laws that govern religious observance, for through them we are purified from sin and saved from the imminent danger of spiritual destruction. To all sinners, our great high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, offers the means of purification and salvation, and all may share the treatment of this one physician.
Religious laws are divided into two classes, internal and external, according to whether they regulate the inward or the outward activity of the Church, for the Church has both internal or spiritual, and external or physical, activities. The inward aspect consists of the mystical purification and salvation of souls, the reconciliation of man with God, and the restoration of their friendship; the outward side is her administrative life, her actual existence, her government and way of life, and the relationship between clergy and people, which the religious laws regulate.
In the true Church of God, no other will whatsoever has any authority except the will of her supreme lawgiver, our great high priest and lord, Jesus Christ. His will makes the laws, and only those laws made by Christ for the Church, have any validity. Not unexpectedly, the transgression of these laws entails penalty and punishment in proportion to the nature both of the laws that are being broken and of the lawgiver who is being scorned and dishonored by their transgression.
The inward and spiritual life of the Church and her inward activity are concerned with the sanctification of the soul and its purification from sin. The salvation of the soul from the danger of eternal Hell also is part of her.
The Church’s outward and physical life and outward activity are concerned with the relationship which should exist between clergy and people, and, generally speaking, with the external ecclesiastical administration which we have mentioned. This administration deals with the duties of the clergy to the faithful, and of the people to the clergy, and in general administers everything concerned with the outward ordering of worship. The clergy should be on good terms with the people according to the religious and ecclesiastical law. Similarly, the people should be related to the clergy by the same law. The rule itself, the religious and ecclesiastical law, is valid for both, for it prescribes their reciprocal duties and rights.
Thus, we may term the laws which regulate our conduct toward God in relation to our rapprochement and reconciliation with Him, purely religious laws. Those which regulate the outward conduct of the Church in her government and in the relationship between clergy and people, we may term ecclesiastical laws, for they handle ecclesiastical administration.
But for both kinds of law, the legislator is Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit, who arranges and directs, and finally leads the Church to her goal. The Church is the temple of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth. She is the temple and dwelling place of God, as St. Paul described her in a magnificent theological passage (II Corinthians 6:16-18).
Religion and religious laws, Church and ecclesiastical laws, all are from God – the works of God, not of man, as some foots say in their idle chatter, for they confuse the true religion and Church and the true religious and ecclesiastical laws, with pseudo-religions and pseudo-churches and with false religious and false ecclesiastical laws. But we must not confuse genuine money with counterfeit money, or state that all existing coins are false, or that all are genuine. If we take for granted either one of these two alternatives, we shall be considered stupid, making a foolish statement.
In the matter of religions and churches, and of religious and ecclesiastical ordinances too, we cannot commit the mistake of confusing the counterfeit and false with the genuine, by declaring that all are false and derived from Satan and from man’s errors, or that all are true and derived from God. For if we give our opinion either in this way or in that, we are mistaken and make a ridiculous judgment.
This is the foolish mistake which is made continually by the editors of Voice of Religion; they are the only ones who make the mistake and even fall into the depths of impiety. In their “clear sighted” vision they perceive truth in all religions; consequently, they think that all religions are true and are derived from God. Such impiety proceeds from corrupt and foolish hearts, and only corrupt and depraved souls can fall into it. True religion and religious rules have their foundation in the will of God revealed in the Gospels.
The Gospel is the stone used for the building; it is the foundation of religion and the religious life, of the laws of religion, and of the Church. In order to discover the foundations of the Christian religion and its ordinances, we must return both to Holy Scripture and to the traditions of the holy apostles, for they saw the Logos with their own eyes and with their own ears they heard His words, and of His divine deeds and works. The tradition itself is but an exposition of the religious ordinances and a rule dealing chiefly with the administration of the Church and the outward forms of worship.
Nevertheless, the same is embedded in the New Testament and the extant epistles of the holy apostles, especially in those of St. Paul, for he explained and made perfectly clear many passages of Holy Scripture which seem obscure, and gave us a complete interpretation of Christianity and of the will of God as it is revealed through Christ in the Gospel. We therefore find the foundation of holy tradition within Holy Scripture.
With the help of Scripture we now silence those contumacious Protestants who unjustly and unreasonably accuse the Orthodox Church of upholding the teaching and commandments of men, and of observing – like the Jews – the traditions of the elders, which allegedly are opposed to the spirit and letter of the Gospel that God has given us. However, we shall proceed to demonstrate that the Orthodox Church alone upholds the true concept of religion. We believe that she maintains the genuine religious laws and that she observes not the traditions of the elders, nor the commandments of men, but the teaching of God and traditions which have been handed down to us through the apostles and holy men by the blessed Holy Spirit Himself, who proceeds from the Father, is sent into the world through the only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and indwells the Church.
Therefore, we accept the new covenant itself, made by God with men, as the foundation of the Christian religion and its religious ordinances, of the Church and ecclesiastical laws. By it, the old covenant which God made with the Jews only, has been abolished, and the new has brought the moral law to perfection so that by its very nature it cannot be altered or broken with impunity.
We derive all the religious and ecclesiastical laws from the Holy Scriptures, and from the will of God revealed through the Gospel and the teaching of the authentic instruments of the Holy Spirit – the holy apostles and the ecumenical councils. For their teaching is in harmony with the Gospel and Holy Scripture, and of themselves they declare nothing at all concerning man’s salvation. This portion of Holy Scripture, dealing with religion and its laws, is called the religious aspect.
We perceive in the material of the New Testament, three dimensions of the one truth:
- The religious dimension, which deals with man’s religious life;
- The philosophical dimension, which deals with man’s intellectual, academic, and philosophical life;
- The political dimension, which deals with man’s life as a member of the community.
In this way, the Gospel satisfies all of man’s needs: religious, political, and academic. It is both one and three-fold, just as man is one and yet has three great longings and desires for which he finds satisfaction in the Gospel alone.