The Tao of Christ: A Story from the East

Below is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to a good friend of mine who is not a Christian, but who has been on a quest for spiritual truth and authenticity for many years. In it, I try to express the truth of Christianity without getting too caught up in the normal terminology that we Christians use.

I do feel like the past holds the key answers for the present. The more I read the Buddha, Lao Tzu (Taoism), Confucius, and Eastern Orthodox desert spirituality, the more I see that the spiritual giants of the past were pointing humanity toward many of the same things. I’m not a fan of syncretism because it tends to ignore diversity within each system while trying to suppress the differences. But the teachings of these amazing men and women have survived thousands of years because, over and over, humanity has confirmed that their teachings are the closest thing to truth that we have discovered.

I believe there has always existed an uncreated divine essence, and that it has always been in a community of love. At some point, it created the physical realm in order to make more creatures that it could call into communion with itself. The highest form of communion stems from a creature that has a free will, that is, it can accept or reject the offer for communion. The acceptance of the offer and the movement toward it can be called both life and love. The rejection of it can be called both sin and death.

At some point, humanity collectively turned its back on this divine essence of love. From this event came the “original sin.” Humans attempted to become divine on their own, that is outside of divinity, but that is not possible. Humans were made in the image of the divine so that they could be united to it, but we do not contain that power within ourselves. In our vain efforts to become divine on our own, we missed the point of it: unity with the eternal divine community. Becoming divine is not about grasping power, wisdom, or immortality for their own sake.

The ancients understood these things more intuitively. Their teachings are the various paths that they perceived would lead to some kind of restoration or harmony within humanity and between humanity and divinity (“heaven” is the term used in some texts).

My thoughts may be a bit biased, but I see in Eastern Orthodoxy a culmination of all of the best teachings of the ancient near and far East brought together in one coherent system (though it can take years of studying the texts and ones own soul to see it).

Within this system is a teaching that real, eternal truth is not an abstract idea, but a part of that uncreated divine essence that I mentioned earlier. In that case, it is not an impersonal force, but something personal. Some of the ancients called this the Tao. One monk [1] teaches that the Tao, seeing the dismal condition of humanity, took upon itself a body and walked among us. It brought together all truth from across the ages, because it was the source of that truth and it therefore become embodied truth.

The “seeds of truth” that were scattered across the world came together in this one person whom we call Jesus the Christ. Jesus not only taught us the Way, the Tao, of life and love, but went as far as to enter into death with us, forever uniting divinity with humanity’s own story of anguish, pain, separation, and death. But he did so in order to conquer death and show that it did not have to have eternal power over us.

Once death was conquered, he invited us to participate in divinity through him, for he is the Tao itself. Divinity became human so that humans could become divine.

That is the Christian story that is largely lost here in the West due to an overemphasis on legality and an offended God who demands blood.

In Eastern Orthodoxy, I find not just the best Christian story, but the story for all of humanity, revealing why we have sickness and death in this world, and giving us a concrete reason to never lose hope.

This Christmas season is joyful because it is the celebration of the expectation of the nations, the coming together of all truth in one man, the collection of the scattered seeds, the condescension of divinity into humanity, and the raising of humanity to divinity.

[1] Hieromonk Damascene, Christ the Eternal Tao, Valaam Books 2012.

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