Jesus - The Way
October 23, 2009 Length: 54:12
Jesus said, "I go and prepare a place for you, but I will come back, and I will take you with me." He also talked about "the way I am going," but the disciples asked, "How can we know the way?" Jesus then responded with those famous words, "I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Today Fr. Thomas thinks about the significance of "The Way."
In the Gospel according to St. John, we have the following interaction between the Lord Jesus and his disciples. It’s the part of the Gospel of St. John where you have written in the context of the Supper—Jesus is at the Supper with his disciples, he washes the feet of his disciples—and then in St. John’s Gospel you have this long discourse of Jesus at the Supper. Scholars, of course, think that this is a compilation of the words of Jesus that are put together and presented in the Gospel in this context, kind of similar to the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew, that is kind of the Christian Torah, the Christian instruction—“Torah” means “instruction”—and so you have Jesus on the mountain, gathering his disciples and speaking to them in a way that is reminiscent of God speaking to Moses on the mountaintop. And, of course, in that sermon, Jesus keeps saying, “It was said of old—what I say to you was said of old—I say to you,” so it’s kind of a catechesis, it’s a torah, it’s an instruction.
Now here in St. John’s Gospel, you have something really similar, but different. It’s similar because you have Jesus now, in the seclusion of the room with his own twelve disciples, twelve apostles. In fact, in this context, you have not even the twelve apostles, but the eleven apostles, because Judas has already gone out. He is not there, and it says, “It was night.” And then it says, “When Judas had gone out from the Supper”—and it’s very important that it’s in the context of the Supper that this discourse is given in St. John’s Gospel. It says, “When he had gone out (Judas), Jesus said, ‘Now is the son of man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and glorify him at once.’ ”
Then Jesus launches into what we can call the great theological discourse, four chapters long. We can even say in some sense that this is the foundation of all Christian theologia: “theologia” in the technical sense of the word “theology” which means speech about God, about God’s activity. It’s different from the Sermon on the Mount which is the speech about how we ought to behave, how disciples ought to behave, what we ought to do. That’s a catechetical discourse; this is a theological discourse. It’s a discourse about Jesus, who he is, what he is, how he is, how he relates to the one God and Father, and who God is and how God is and how he relates to Jesus. And then the Holy Spirit is brought in. Jesus brings in the Holy Spirit and explains about the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father, being sent into [the] world through Jesus, the Spirit of truth. So you have God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. And this would be what we would certainly call the first Trinitarian discourse. Here we should remember that in ancient theology, in the earliest Church, certainly among the Cappadocian Fathers as late as the fourth century—that’s still a long time ago from now, that’s still somehow the earlier Church—you have the technical terminology in St. Basil, St. Gregory the Theologian, that when we speak about Jesus’ activity, his teaching, his redemption, his death on the Cross: that’s not technically called “theologia”; it’s called “oikonomia.” It’s called the “kerigmata,” the preaching. But when you have the contemplation of the Godhead, when you have the contemplation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and their relationship with each other, then according to the Fathers, that’s called “theologia.” St. Gregory even says, you know, you could talk all you want and philosophize about the soul, about the angels, about life, about death, about why Jesus’ death on the Cross redeems us and so on. To hit the mark is helpful; to miss it is not so dangerous. But when you speak about God, when you speak about who God is and how God is and who Christ is and who the Holy Spirit is and how they relate to each other, then be careful, and this is not for everyone, this is not at all times, this is only for those indeed who are baptized and enter into the mystery. And then they can know ta dogmata, as Basil called them: the dogmas and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
So this is what we have in St. John’s Gospel, so it begins right after Judas leaves. Jesus speaks that his hour has come, it’s going to be glorified. Then he launches right into “the new commandment I give you: you love one another; even as I have loved you, so you love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” And then you have the speech about Jesus’ going. It says
Simon Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” Because he said, “I am going away,” he said, “a little while you will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am going you cannot come,” and he gives this commandment about love.
So he speaks about “going”: going somewhere. So Simon Peter says to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you shall follow afterward.” You shall not follow now; you shall follow afterward. Peter said to him, “Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow till you have denied me three times.”
And then Jesus continues, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms, many mansions it used to say in [the] King James version; this is RSV I’m reading now. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go?” So you have him here again, going. “I go to prepare a place for you, and when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.” So he says, “I’m going away. I will come back, and I’ll take you with me, and you’ll be where I am.”
Then it continues: “And you know the way where I am going.” You know the way where I am going. That term, “way,” in Greek is “hodos” which means “path” or “way.” In modern Greek, it’s interesting that that very word means an “avenue” or a “street” or a “road.” It might even be translated as “road” or “way” or “path,” but if you go to [Greece] now and you want to look at the street sign, it’ll say, “hodos this, hodos that”: it means “avenue” or “street.” But here you have this term; it’s translated “the way.” And so he says, “Where I am going, you may be also, and you know the way where I am going.”
Then we have the Apostle Thomas. And Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And then Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. Henceforth you know him and have seen him.”
And then the discourse continues. It actually continues with Philip saying to Jesus, “Well, you’re telling us everything openly now, but show us God the Father. One thing is missing. Show us the Father.” And [Jesus] kind of gets upset with him and says, “Have you been with me so long, Philip, you don’t understand? He who sees me sees the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” Then it continues all the way to the end of the 17th chapter. It begins at the end of the 13th, and what I just read—“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”—that is, in fact, John 14:6.
Here we have to begin by thinking about this expression “the way.” When you have that expression, it means, as we have already stressed in our reading, you are going somewhere. You can’t speak about “the way” unless you’re going somewhere. It’s a road that takes you somewhere, a path, or in modern Greek, an avenue, a street. It’s taking you somewhere. So this already raises in our minds the understanding that if one is with Jesus, that person is going somewhere. He’s going somewhere. And where is he going? He’s going where Jesus is. And so you could think immediately of the term “to follow,” because you have in the New Testament very often the expression “follow me”: “Go where I am going,” “I will lead you somewhere,” “You come after me.”
We know how, when Jesus even called the disciples in the beginning, when he called the Apostles, when they were at their boats and so on, he says to them, “Follow me.” Come after me. We remember also that in the speech of Jesus, the discourse of Jesus about the good shepherd, he speaks about the sheep following the shepherd. We mentioned also that in the Middle East, at the time of Jesus, the shepherds didn’t chase the sheep or push the sheep or go behind them; they went in front of them. Sometimes they even sat on their donkey and their bell was ringing and they were going, and the sheep hear the voice and they are following.
You immediately have this imagery of going somewhere and Jesus going somewhere, and that those who are with Jesus, who believe in Jesus, who follow Jesus, who follow after Jesus, they are going also with him along this way. So they want to know: where are they going? Jesus says, “I’m going to prepare a place for you.” And we know, of course, knowing the whole Gospel, that what Jesus was talking about is that he was going to die. He was going to go the way of the Cross. And then, by going to death, he was going to be raised from the dead and then he was going to go into the realm of God again, his Father. He’s going to be seated at the right hand of his Father. He’s going to enter into his kingdom, and then he’s going to come again, being in his kingdom.
So we know right away that this “way” that Jesus is going is the way of death, the way of the Cross, but then it is the way of vindication, resurrection, glorification, and then “the way” as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, is the entry into the heavenly Jerusalem—not the earthly one, but the heavenly one—into the very kingship and the kingdom and the realm and the reign of God Almighty himself. What Jesus is saying here is, “This is where I’m going and you’re going to follow me afterwards. You can’t follow me now, but you’re going to follow me afterwards.” And in that sense, Jesus is saying to the Apostles, “You’re going to die with me. You’re going to go the way of the Cross, too.” And he even said, “He who will be my disciple will deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
If we’re following Jesus, we’re taking up our cross. Following Jesus is to take up one’s cross. And in St. John’s Gospel, he will even say that if you’re following [him] and going the way that [he] is showing you and the way that [he] is going, you will do the works that [he does]. So going on this way, you are going, doing the very works that Jesus is doing. And in that sense it means that you are announcing the kingdom of God. You are showing the power of God. You are even doing the wonders of God. But ultimately, it means that in doing the will of God, you die. “You suffer with me.” The way is the way of the Cross, always, the way of suffering.
Jesus here begins his whole theological discourse by speaking about his going, the way that he’s going, and that the disciples are going to follow him along this way, and that if they are his disciples, that’s exactly what they’re going to do. But then you have the question: we don’t know the way! We don’t know the way. Well, Jesus could have answered and said, “Well, I’m showing you the way. Do what I do. Do the works that I do and you’ll be on the right path. You’ll be on the right direction. You’ll be on the right road. You’ll be going the right way.”
But how, not only interesting, but how absolutely typical it is, how unique it is to Jesus himself among all the teachers on earth, that he doesn’t say, “I will show you the way.” He said, “I am the way.” Egō eimi ē hodos—I am the way and the alētheia—and the truth—and the zōē—the life. You know, in Latin, it’s nice because they’re all “v"s: Ego sum via—“via,” that’s where you get “via” or “viaduct”; that’s “way” in Latin. Ego sum via—I am the way—et veritas—and truth—et vita—and life. I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Here you have one of those “I am” sentences. We spoke earlier, in our series and reflections about the names and titles of Jesus, that Jesus uses this expression “Egō eimi—I am” very, very often. How often he says “I am.” In St. John’s Gospel there are nine “I am"s that Jesus says that he is. And here we have three of them: “I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life.” And we’ll reflect on “truth” and “life” in days to come, God willing.
But he also said, and he will say, “I am the door” or “I am the gate.” We’ll talk about that, too, because that’s connected with “the way” or “the road.” But he says, “I am the good Shepherd. I am the light of the world. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the true vine. You are the branches. I am the bread of life, the bread that comes down from heaven, the living bread.” We will be thinking of all these things, but we also said already that Jesus sometimes says, “I am”: “I am he.” “Before Abraham was, I am.” “Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” “When I am lifted up, you will know that ... I am.”
And that “I am” is the divine name. It’s the name that God gave to Moses on the burning bush and on the mountaintop. “I am”: “Yahweh” in Hebrew. The name that no one could be allowed even to say, and we have to be very careful to say it. I have to be myself, much more careful when I say that word, those four consonants in Hebrew, which in Latin letters would be YHWH. But it means “the one who is, the existing one, the I am,” which is never said, but is pronounced “the Lord.”
So you have an “I am” statement here. He doesn’t say, “I will show you the way. I will reveal to you the light. I will tell you what life is. I will explain the truth to you.” He doesn’t do that. He says that he is all of these things: “I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. I am the light. I am the bread. I am the gate. I am the vine. I am the resurrection.” This is radically, uniquely Christian.
Very often what is also very unique to Jesus, certainly in the entire Bible it’s unique to Jesus: he will begin this kind of [sentence] with “Truly, truly”: “Truly, truly, I say to you.” For example, here in this 14th chapter, he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you: he who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do because I am going. I am going to the Father, and you’re going to follow after me and you’re going to do these works, too. But he begins by saying, “Amen, amen—Amēn, amēn, legō ymin” in Greek: Again, again; truly truly; verily, verily, I say to you. In the King James, it’s “verily.”
Some scholars, like Joachim Jeremias, for example, a famous New Testament scholar, he said, “When the scholars are trying to look and see what is unique to Jesus, what do you find in him that you don’t find anywhere else in the Hebrew scriptures, because practically everything that Jesus taught was already in the Bible. It was already there. It was already in the law of Moses. It was already in the Prophets. He just reiterated it, amplified it, explained it, interpreted it, and showed how it all applied to him.
But you never have anyone saying “Truly, truly” first. The master, the teacher, the rabbi is supposed to give his teaching, and then the disciples are supposed to say “Amen.” So when Jesus says “Amen, amen” first, what he’s saying is, “This is not negotiable. I don’t care about your ‘Amen,’ ” to put it vulgarly. “I’m happy to have your ‘Amen,’ but I’m telling you I’m saying ‘Amen’ first, which means I’m telling you this is the truth.” And, in a sense, he’s saying, “You’d better believe it. You’d better accept it. This is not food for thought. This is a statement of what the truth actually is, and I say, ‘So be it, so be it,’ before I even say it.”
Now. The way. That’s what we want to think about now. What does Jesus mean when he says, “I am the way”? Well, probably, most of us could think about that and explain that rather simply: The way is a path, it’s a direction, it’s a road, and it’s going somewhere. And Jesus is going on that road and on that way, and then he tells us that the way he is going is the way that he is. And if we know him then we will know the way, because he is the way.
One very wonderful Church Father, St. Nicholas Cabasilas—he has a couple of books: [the first is a] real good book on the divine Liturgy. I think, probably, among the Patristic writers, his treatise on the Divine Liturgy is ... it’s my favorite, anyway. I think it’s the sober, simple, clear explanation. But he’s got another book called The Life in Christ, and in that book he says that Jesus is not only the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, the archē and the telos, the start and the finish, but he says Jesus is also the inn along the way. He is not only the beginning of the path, he is not only the end of the path, the beginning of the road, the end of the road, but he is the road itself. And then he even says, “He is the inn along the way”: he’s the one who feeds us and cares for us and clothes us as we travel along this path, this road, that he himself is.
Of course, I think we would all know that this imagery is biblical. It’s not original to Jesus. In the whole of the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, all of those writings—just get a concordance and look it up, and you will see how often the imagery of walking [is used], and of course, mostly, when people were traveling along the way, they were walking. You have the Scriptures filled with the imagery about walking. For example, right in the beginning of Genesis, already, you have the expression that Enoch walked with God. Noah walked with God. Abraham was called, and he walked with God. So you have this imagery of walking right away, and then if you’re walking, you’re going on a way. You’re walking a certain way. In the Old Testament also, again, in the law of Moses, in the writings of the Prophets, in the singing of the Psalms, you have the imagery of the way. That’s a classical, biblical imagery, that there is the way, and that people have to walk along that way.
Walking, of course, has the connotation of dynamism. You’re moving. You’re acting. You’re living. It’s very interesting here also, because sometimes together with the imagery of walking, you have the imagery of standing. You have the imagery of sitting. You have even the imagery of being still. So it’s so classically biblical how you have these various images and they all seem to say different things but they all end up meaning the same thing, so that if you’re standing in the right way, you’re with God. If you’re sitting in the right place, you’re with God. If you’re walking in the right direction, you’re with God.
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, in one of his books—it might be The Orthodox Way. It’s wonderful that he has a book called “The Orthodox Way,” and I would highly recommend it. You want to read a good book? Read Metr. Kallistos Ware’s book, The Orthodox Way. But I believe it’s in that book; I’m pretty certain it’s in that book that Kallistos tells the story—I think I got it straight, maybe I’m mixing it up a little bit, but the point is clear enough.
He says that there was a monk, maybe a desert-dweller or some [other] kind of monk, who was sitting down, sitting very still, and hardly moving. He was discovered by some people sitting there, and they said to him, “What are you just sitting there for, just doing nothing? You’re just sitting there in stillness and not doing anything at all!” And, according to the story as I recall it, the monk who was sitting there in stillness—and he was obviously praying—he said to the person who inquired of him, “Actually, sir, I’m on a journey.” He said, “You see me, and it looks like I’m just sitting here, but in fact, I’m on a journey. I’m moving. I’m on a pilgrimage. I’m going somewhere.”
And one cannot think of that particular story without thinking of the line in the psalm where it says that those who seek the Lord and follow after him in their heart is the highway to Zion. The way is like it’s implanted right in their heart. And if you want to travel on this way, you could travel on it interiorly. You can travel on it while you’re sitting, sitting down, sitting still. And there’s some sense in which even to walk in this way, you’ve got to know how to sit still, and you’ve got to know how to stand fast. It’s like when Moses led the people out of Egypt, and they went out in the desert and the people were unhappy and they’re murmuring against Moses and saying, “You brought us out here to die and the Egyptian army’s going to come and wipe us all out. We just should have stayed where we were. It was better if we’d never moved.” And don’t forget the Passover Exodus is a journey! It’s an exodus; it’s a moving out. The people got up and walked. They walked across that river. They walked across the desert. They were walking!
And then when they get very far out there and they kind of lose courage and they say, “Oh my goodness, what in heaven’s name have we done? We’re just going to perish and there’s not even any food here and it’s dark out here” and all this kind of thing, in Exodus 14:14—I always remember that, because it’s easy to remember: Exodus 14:14—well, in Exodus 14:14, we have these wonderful words of Moses, when the people are complaining that they’re out there. It says:
Moses said to the people, “Fear not. Stand fast, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you. You have only to be still.”
So the paradox is that if you’re on this journey, you’ve got to learn how to stand fast, stand firm, sit still, not move, and commune with God in your heart, and within him you will be on this incredible journey. So there is this connection of, not only walking on the way, but sitting in the right way, standing in the right way.
Now, it’s interesting—to me, anyway—that the very first psalm has these three verbs, in the very first line of the very first psalm in the Psalter, and, of course, that’s read every Saturday night in Orthodox churches when we begin the week-long reading of the Psalter, at least in the monasteries. And most parish churches know this psalm because it’s sung—some of the verses of it, not all of it, but some of it—at the Great Vespers on Saturday night that ushers in the Lord’s Day, Sunday. And here’s what it says:
Blessed is the man (makarios anēr happy is the man, blessed is the man) who walks (I’m reading RSV) not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way (and that’s “hodos” in the original) of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
So that man is walking, that man is standing, and that man is sitting. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way or the path or the direction of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but he delights in the law of the Lord.” These images—walking, standing, sitting—in a sense, they’re all meaning virtually, I would say even identically, the same thing.
One thing I’d like to point out about this particular psalm… And if you read the psalms you’ll see how often it speaks about “the way,” just how many times you have that expression about “the way”: walk in the way, the way of salvation, the way of light, the way of peace, the way of God, the way of the Lord; don’t be walking in darkness, don’t walk the crooked path, walk the straight path, walk the level path. You have that in the Psalter.
It’s interesting to note that, in this first sentence of the psalm, Blessed is the man, in some of the new Bibles, they don’t want to have the name, they don’t want to have the [word] “man,” so they’ll say, “the person” or sometimes they’ll put it in the plural. I think the New Revised Standard [does so] which I really think is a terrible, terrible translation; I would not recommend it to anybody. But the old RSV has here “Blessed is the man.”
Some people think, “Why don’t you say, ‘Blessed are they’ or ‘Blessed is the human being, blessed is the person’?” If the text had the word “anthropos,” if it had the word that means “human being,” you could at least and somehow make a case for that. You could say, “Yeah, okay, well, it doesn’t mean a male human being, it means a person, a man or a woman, anyone.” However, we have to know that in this particular text, the word is “anēr”; it’s not “anthropos.” It, in fact, means a male human being.
You could say, “Well, that’s because in those days the male human being was kind of standing for all human beings and even though in English the word “man” means everyone, there’s a certain male chauvanistic priority to men, and that kind of language. So the Psaltist just uses the term ‘male human being’; of course we know he means everybody,” and so on. Well, I think it may be a little bit more nuanced than that.
Surely everyone—man, woman, child, whoever that person is—has to walk not in the counsel of the wicked, has not to stand on the way or in the way or on the road of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers, blasphemers. Surely, that’s for everybody. But I think, my own opinion is that many times in the Psalter, you have the term “anēr,” male human being, or even the expression “son of man,” yios anthrōpou, the son of the human—son, not daughter—because I think it is not out of the possibility, in fact, I think it’s plausible—in fact, in my own mind I think it’s certain, but I won’t push it that far—that it’s referring to Jesus.
It wants to say, “There will be that male human being who indeed walks not in the counsel of the wicked, who never stands in the way of sinners, who never sits in the seat of scoffers.” There’s Jesus, the totally sinless one, the totally righteous one, whose way is the way of truth, whose way is the way of life, whose way is the way of righteousness, whose way is the way of light, whose way is the high way, the lofty way, the exalted way, whose way is the straight way, and not the crooked way—it’s the high way and not the low way; it’s the righteous way and not the sinful way; it’s the right way and not the wrong way; it’s the way of life and not the way death; the way of light and not the way of darkness. And Jesus is the one, not only who shows us that way—and he does show it—but he shows it to us by being it. He is it. He is this way, himself. This can’t be stressed too much.
For example, Buddhism: the Buddhists, I believe, hold that Buddha showed people the way. He showed them how to meditate. He showed them how to sit. He showed how to reach compassion and peace and Nirvana and wisdom. But Buddha said, “I’m not God. The Buddha nature is in all of you. You all have this Buddha nature.” There’s even a saying in Buddhism: “If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha,” because the Buddha is not God, the Buddha is not an idol. The Buddha is a teacher, but that’s all he is, is a teacher. You’ve got to find this all for yourself. You have in you exactly what Buddha had in him, and it’s no different at all, and you’ve got to find it in yourself, by yourself, in yourself. Certainly by following what he told you to do, but you’ve got to do it.
Well, that’s not Christianity, because Jesus is not that kind of a teacher. Oh, sure, he’s a teacher. He’s the Rabbi. We already spoke about Jesus as the Teacher—ho Didaskalos, the Teacher, the Rabbi, the Master—but he’s the Master who is himself the Doctrine! He’s the Teacher who is himself the Message. He’s the Teacher who is himself the Truth. He is the one who shows the way, who is himself the Way. That’s absolutely unique and we cannot stress it too much.
A Christian, hearing all these things, would know the Old Testament, would know all the imagery there, of walking and the path and the way, which is so prevalent it’s everywhere in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. For example, not only the Psalter—I could give you many examples from the Psalms—but let’s go to the law of Moses. There’s the famous Deuteronomy chapters, through the whole book of Deuteronomy, and the imagery of walking, walking with God, walking in God’s way, is one of the main images in Deuteronomy, in Moses, in this last of the Pentateuch books.
In this Deuteronomy, you have the famous lines, made famous even in the Christian faith by the Didache, an early Christian document, where the Lord says, and here in Deuteronomy, it’s through Moses, he says, “I’m presenting to you two ways: the way of life and the way of death, the blessing and the curse, the way of good and the way of evil.” And he says, “Follow after the good. Follow after life. Follow after the blessing.” So you have this in [Deuteronomy 30]; you can find it, where Moses is saying to the people, from God:
The Lord your God will circumcise your heart, the heart of your offspring, and you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live, walking in his ways. I set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, and by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments, then you shall live.
So you have this expression, this imagery of walking in the way, and you have these two ways being given in the Holy Scripture.
In the Prophets, for example, you have this same kind of teaching. In the Prophet Isaiah 2, where it says, “It will come to pass in the latter days that the mountains of the house of the Lord will be established at the highest of the mountains, and you shall be raised above the hills.” And, by the way, it’s interesting that Jerusalem is on top of a hill, so when you go to Jerusalem, you go up to Jerusalem. We are going up. Whatever direction you’re coming from, you’re going up. Even if you’re going south, you’re still going up. So you have these Psalms of Ascent, this movement up. This will be established. So Isaiah says, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” So we go up to walk in his way, to be in his path.
You have the same thing in Jeremiah. Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the roads (by the ways, by the paths), and behold (and look) and ask for the ancient way (the ancient path) where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find peace and rest for your souls, for your lives.’ ” It’s a very famous sentence: “Stand by the roads and look and ask for the ancient ways where the good way is, and walk in it, and you shall find peace, you shall find rest for your life, for your soul.” So you have that also in Jeremiah.
Read the 32nd chapter, the 30s where he speaks about the heart, and he says that not only will he give a new heart, but he’ll give a new way. He’s going to bring a new covenant with a new heart and a new way, you find in Jeremiah. “I will plant in the land a faithfulness with all my heart and all my soul, and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant.” So God gives not only a new heart, but one heart. He gives a new way, or a renewed way, and a renewed heart.
We could go through the Old Testament and just quote and quote and quote. I would recommend even to you, if you want to meditate on this theme, just get a concordance and look, just look up “walking,” and look up “way,” and you’ll have enough reading there for a couple weeks! But one thing we want to see also, in addition, is that Christianity, the Christian faith, the Gospel, particularly in the Book of Acts, it is constantly called “the way.” That’s the name for the Christian faith: this way, that way, the way, the way of truth, the way of salvation, the way of life, the way of God, the way of light. The expression “the way” came to be just a synonym for the Christian faith. The Christian Church is the way. Just as some examples of this—and it’s mostly St. Paul who does this—before St. Paul is converted, it says:
Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus so that if he found any belonging to the way (ē hodos, the way) men or women, he might bring them, bound, to Jerusalem. And he was even given permission to persecute them even unto death,
...to utterly demolish them. But he calls it “the way.” In the Revised Standard Version it’s interesting that they even capitalize the word “way”: the Way. Then you have this expression, just over again. For example, in Acts 16, where the slave girl is following St. Paul and she’s crying out and saying, “These men are servants of the most high God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” The way of salvation.
Then you also have in the Book of Acts when Paulus doesn’t understand Christianity completely well; he’s a little bit mixed up. He knows about the baptism of John; he doesn’t know about the baptism of Jesus. He never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit, so when Prisca and Aquila have to straighten him out, it says that they taught him “more accurately about the way.” Then it says, “When they entered the synagogues and they saw some were stubborn and disbelieved, speaking evil about the way before the congregation,” and Christianity was attacked. It was considered an evil way. It was not the right way. It was not the straight way. But it’s interesting here that Paulus has to be taught “more accurately about the way.”
You have it again. I’ll just give you another example from the Book of Acts. You have St. Paul defending himself, that he was a Jew, that he was a Pharisee, that he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, and then he says in his speech, his defense, “I persecuted this way even unto death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women.” “I persecuted this way”: he called it “this way.”
And then you have also again, in Acts 24, St. Paul saying, “But this I admit to you, that according to the way which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law or written in the Prophets.” And then he said, “It is because of this that I am on trial.” And then it says, “But Felix, but having a rather accurate knowledge of the way, put them all off, saying”—and he kind of defends St. Paul and sends him off onto Rome. So you have this calling of Christianity simply as “the way.” That’s the name for it: the Way.
One last thing, and that is this: Nowadays, people speak about many ways, many paths. They’ll even speak about the various spiritual paths, which path are you on. There’s the Buddhist path, there’s this path, there’s that path, this way, that way. And then even Vedānta, which is a teaching that comes out of the Hindu tradition, you even have teachers who say—I knew people like this—who say it doesn’t matter which way you follow, because they all end up in the same place. To put it technically, there’s a “transcendental unity of all dharma.” So there are certain legitimate ways; there are false ways. And there are some people who hold that Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, they are all “valid ways.” There are other ways, I don’t know, Manichaean, that are not valid; there are wrong ways. But they would put together the so-called “great religions of the world” as all being “valid ways.” Sometimes it’s put in imagery that there are different paths but they all end up in the same place, or there are different windows, but the light that shines through them is all the same light.
And so we have to ask the question: what do Christians believe about that? Do we think that that’s true? And I think that the answer, very clearly, according to Holy Scripture, is: it’s not true. But it needs some explanation. Christians would hold that there is only one way, that has to be taught and proclaimed. And that way is Christ himself. We preach Christ crucified, who is the Way. Definite article: not a way, but the Way; not a truth, but the Truth; not a life, but the Life; not a son of God, but the Son of God; not a prophet, but the Prophet. So we have these definite articles that we always point out.
And here there is no doubt in my mind at all, that according to ancient Christianity, the Christians really believe that Christ was the fulfillment of all the ways. That if there were other ways around the planet Earth that people had found to try to find wisdom or light or peace or compassion or truth or reality, and they’re hungering and thirsting for that, well, the end of their longing is Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, the light; come to him! Follow his path. He is the path. And you will reach where you’re going. You will reach the destination in this way!
We must affirm that, according to ancient Christianity, Jesus Christ is the way, and Christians don’t know any other way, and this is the way that they preach, and this is the way that Jesus is. And this is the way that he shows, and this is the way that he is, and this is the way that all human beings are called to follow. And if they follow it, they will end up in God. They will end up in the knowledge of God, the truth of God, the peace of God, the joy of God, the light of God, communion with God, the kingdom of God. That’s our conviction and that’s what we preach.
However, our holy Fathers, even St. Paul, even the Old Testament, will say, there are righteous people among the Gentiles. Take, for example, Cornelius, on my series, Speaking the Truth in Love, I spoke about Cornelius and the Holy Spirit, how he was inspired and he called for St. Peter to come. Well, Cornelius was a God-fearing pagan; he was a Gentile; he was a Roman. The earliest Christian Fathers, like Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, and so on, they said that the word of God, the light of God, the truth of God, is sprinkled out and spread out among human beings.
And they would say, and I believe that this is clearly a Christian teaching, if any person hungers and thirsts for righteousness, God will try to show it to him, to the measure that he can, given their human condition, their human situation. If anyone is in light, then God is enlightening them. If anyone has any wisdom, that wisdom comes from God. If anyone is loving their neighbor really and truly and doing good, that love and that goodness comes from God. So the claim is that God is acting everywhere in every human being as he can. And then there are clusters of human beings who put together teachings that have some very beautiful, valid, wonderful points to them. Probably Buddhism, Hinduism, Platonism: they have wonderful points to them. Certainly Judaism, even Islam. People are really beating up on Islam nowadays, especially Christians, but there are many beautiful, wonderful teachings in the Quran that come from the Holy Scriptures and belief come from the Spirit of God.
So what we Christians would say is, “Yeah, God can and does act where he can and how he can in whomever he can, in individuals and in communities of people.” He does. We believe God is merciful, gracious, long-suffering. He wants to show himself. And he shows himself and reveals himself as he can anywhere and anyhow he can. Even the Lord Jesus said, “The Spirit is not given by measure. The Spirit blows where he wills” and so on. This is our teaching. However, what we would say is this: “There are not ‘many windows that bring the light of God through them, and Christianity is one of the windows.’ There are not ‘many paths that lead to God, and Christianity is merely one of those paths.’ ”
We would say—I’m sure that this is the teaching of ancient Christianity—if anyone is following a path that’s leading to God, whether they know it or not, that path is Jesus; that way is Jesus. It is Christ. It is the Logos. It is the light. If anyone finds wisdom, that wisdom is Christ, because he is the wisdom of God. If anyone finds anything of God at all, that is Christ, because he is the Son of God who reveals God, and Jesus says—we heard it—“No one comes to the Father but by me.” So if you’re on a journey and you’re moving toward God, you’re getting there by way of Jesus. You may not know it. You may not be aware of it. Some day you will. But we believe that if a person really does have communion with the one true God, it’s always by way of Jesus Christ who is the Word of God, the Icon of God, by the power indwelling of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. We see a Trinitarian dimension to all experience that’s valid and true.
What we would say is this, to use the example of the windows: Christianity is not one of the windows. It is the window. And all windows that are real windows, they have within them elements of the one window who is Christ, the one way that is Christ. If any way is really coming to what is good, true, and beautiful and excellent and holy, the content of that is perfectly fulfilled and is himself Christ. For example, if you speak about a light shining through windows, and some windows are bigger and some windows are smaller and some windows are clearer and some windows are darker and some windows are more opaque and some windows are more translucent, but the light that would be coming is still the light of Christ in every single one of the windows.
So we would say that if an atheist somewhere, or a Buddhist, who is a non-theist—Buddhism is non-theistic—if any of those folks would really come to compassion and wisdom and mercy and kindness and love, we would recognize that as the activity of God through Christ and the Holy Spirit, the activity of God through his Logos who is incarnate on earth as Jesus of Nazareth. So we would say that there are many things and different ways that are very good, but the content of all of them is perfectly and truly Jesus Christ himself. That would be the Christian conviction.
Some people would say, “Well, who do you think you are?” Well, that’s our faith. Forgive us. Have mercy on us. But that is our faith. We believe that what is good, true, beautiful, and holy is totally, perfectly incarnate in human form in only one person who ever lived on the Planet Earth, and that’s Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God, born of a Virgin. Other people could come close.
Now one last thing here. Father Sophrony Sakharov, who made famous St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, and he wrote about him in the book St. Silouan the Athonite—and he wrote plenty of books himself, Fr. Sophrony; I’m sure he’s a saint; he’ll be canonized someday, and his disciple Fr. Zacharias Zacharou; I highly recommend their books: Fr. Sophrony wrote We Shall See Him As He Is and he wrote a book on prayer and so on—but Fr. Sophrony, this is what he said: When he was young, although he was a Christian and baptized, he left Christianity, and he went into Asian religions and spiritualism and began meditating and all that kind of stuff. And then he realized that he was an apostate, that he had turned his back on the light, on the peace, on the wisdom, on the proper way, the true way, the only way. And then he returned to Christianity as a penitent, as a weeper. And all his life, he agonized over the fact that he had denied, for a time, the one and only Lord Jesus Christ, the only one who is the savior.
But then Fr. Sophrony said, “Wasn’t there light there in what I went into?” this meditation of an Asian form. I’m not sure whether it was Hindu, Buddhist, whatever, but Fr. Sophrony said this; he said, “For a person who is in that spiritual path, yes, God would be merciful to them and reveal himself to them inasmuch as he can and inasmuch as they’re capable of, given their own human condition.” So he said, “Yes.” And other holy Fathers said the same thing.
And he said, “Yes, it’s possible there, to find some peace, some joy, some light, some wisdom, some truth. Yes, that’s true,” he said, “but for a Christian to go there, and certainly for one who’s already been baptized and illumined and has participated in the Bread of Life, the Holy Communion, for them to go there, then they’re only being led there by the devil,” he said. “Then Satan is tricking them.” And one of the biggest tricks of Satan is to say to people, “It’s all the same! It doesn’t matter! Choose the one you want! Choose, yourself! Decide yourself what you want to do!”
Christians never decide themselves what they want to do; they surrender to what they see to be true. And on this point we would agree with Islam. “Islam” means “surrender.” We agree that you’ve got to surrender, but you’ve got to know what you’re surrendering to. You’ve got to know what you’re accepting, what you’re giving your life to. And here, Christians would say, there’s only One to whom we should surrender ourselves, completely, totally, wholly, and without condition or reserve. And that’s Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
He is the way, and we give ourselves completely and totally to his way. And his way is the way of the Cross. His way is the way of suffering and death. His is the way of self-emptying kenosis. His is the way of perfect love of God and perfect love of the neighbor and perfect love of the enemy. That’s the way that we follow, that’s the way that he shows, and that’s the way that he is.
We Christians would say there really is no other way. There’s certainly no other way for us. People will do what they do, and God can do with them what he wills. He’s God, not us. But for us, the way is Christ, and only Christ, who said, “I am the Way.”