As an answer to the question of the possibility of a "dialogue" of Orthodox Christianity with the various non-Christian religions, the reader has been presented the testimony of three Orthodox Christians who confirm, on the basis of Orthodox doctrine and their own experience, what the Orthodox Church has always taught: that Orthodox Christians do not at all have the "same God" as the so-called "monotheists" who deny the Holy Trinity; that the gods of the pagans are in fact demons; and that the experiences and powers which the pagan "gods" can and do provide are satanic in nature. All this in no way contradicts the words of St. Peter, that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to Him (Acts 10:34-5); or the words of St. Paul, that God in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:16-17). Those who live in the bondage of satan, the prince of this world (John 12:31), in darkness which is unenlightened by the Christian Gospel — are judged in the light of that natural testimony of God which every man may have, despite this bondage.
Now, much can be said pro and con regarding this excerpt from Fr. Seraphim Rose. The criticisms need not detain one from learning profitably from this selection and the work from which it comes as a whole. Rose's passion is clear, as well as his honesty and directness. It is those qualities that one can imbibe from Rose's writings, regardless of one's position on issues such as inter-religious dialogue and so forth. In fact, much of evangelical writing of the conservative/fundamentalist persuasion (not that Rose would be happy with being mentioned in the same sentence with fundamentalism) provide insight into some of the common qualities found in devout practitioners of any spiritual tradition. Any real spiritual sadhana includes discrimination, the discrimination of the false and dangerous, from the true and skillful; a realistic perspective that does not assume identity where there is simply similarity; an awareness of the preciousness of human life, to the extent that misuse and abuse of human choice becomes comparable, in a very real way, with eternal existence in the hellish realms; and a radical honesty, both within oneself and with"-out" others.
For the Christian, however, who has been given God's Revelation, no "dialogue" is possible with those outside the Faith. Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?... Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord (2 Cor. 6:14-17). The Christian calling is rather to bring the light of Orthodox Christianity to them, even as St. Peter did to the God-fearing household of Cornelius the Centurian (Acts 10:34-48), in order to enlighten their darkness and join them to the chosen flock of Christ's Church.
All of this is obvious enough to Orthodox Christians who are aware of and faithful to the Truth of God's Revelation in the Church of Christ. But many who consider themselves Christians have very little awareness of the radical difference between Christianity and all other religions; and some who may have this awareness have very little discernment in the area of "spiritual experiences" — a discernment that has been practiced and handed down in Orthodox Patristic writings and Lives of Saints for nearly 2000 years.
In the absence of such awareness and discernment, the increasing presence of Eastern religious movements in the West, especially in the past decade or two, has caused great confusion in the minds of many would-be Christians. The case of Thomas Merton comes immediately to mind: a sincere convert to Roman Catholicism and Catholic monasticism some forty years ago (long before the radical reforms of Vatican II), he ended his days proclaiming the equality of Christian religious experiences and the experience of Zen Buddhism and other pagan religions. Something has "entered the air" in these past two decades or so that has eroded whatever remained of a sound Christian outlook in Protestantism and Roman Catholicism and now is attacking the Church itself, Holy Orthodoxy. The "dialogue with non-Christian religions" is a result rather than a cause of this new "spirit."
In this chapter we shall examine some of the Eastern religious movements which have been influential in the 1970's, with special emphasis on the attempts to develop a syncretism of Christianity and Eastern religions, particularly in the realm of "spiritual practices." Such attempts more often than not cite the Philokalia and the Eastern Orthodox tradition of contemplative prayer as being more kin to Eastern spiritual practices than anything that exists in the West; it is time enough, then, to point out clearly the great abyss that exists between Christian and non-Christian "spiritual experience," and why the religious philosophy that underlies this new syncretism is false and dangerous.